Recently, the Maryland Public Defender Association, the Maryland State Attorney’s Association, and the Maryland Public Defender’s Office came together to celebrate the first 50 years of MOPD.
The Daily Record Editorial Board joins in this important recognition of the vital role played by the MOPD in a fair judicial system and congratulates Natasha Dartigue, who was named a Maryland clerk earlier this year.
Like many, several members of the editorial board were unaware of the delay between the decision in the seminal case of the United States Supreme Court of Gideon vs Wainwrightestablishing the right of defense in criminal matters for indigent people, and the creation of the MOPD. Gideon it was decided in 1963 and almost 10 years have passed since the MOPD opened its doors in 1972.
Meanwhile, two model programs have been run in the city of Baltimore and Montgomery County, with the Maryland legislature creating the MOPD in 1971. The MOPD started with about 72 attorneys handling 16,000 cases in 17 locations and today has grown to over 800 staff members, including more than 500 lawyers, working on more than 200,000 cases in 50 locations.
The MOPD should be recognized not only for the essential role it plays in the daily functioning of our criminal justice system, but also for its innovative programming and its judicial and legislative defense.
Throughout the history of the MOPD, he has spearheaded efforts to establish a lawyer entitlement during bail procedures (DeWolfe v. Richmond), abolish the death penalty (Senate Bill 276 in 2013) and reduce the use of cash bail (Maryland Court of Appeals Rules of Court in 2017).
More recently, the MOPD participated in a lawsuit as an organizational actor in requesting the removal of the Talbot Boys’ confederate statute from Talbot County Courthouse.
It also added innovative programming, including partnering with the University of Baltimore School of Law to manage the Innocence Project Clinic. It recently launched the Decarceration Initiative, which coordinates the statewide representation of people eligible to be reconsidered under the Juvenile Restoration Act after serving at least 20 years of a sentence imposed for a crime committed when they were children.
The Child Protection Division monitors the conditions of imprisonment of all MOPD minors engaged in the care and custody of the Department of Juvenile Services, as well as monitoring the safety and adequacy of placements and the timely execution of court orders. MOPD also provides social work case management and peer support to address underlying barriers. Created the Community Engagement Reentry Project in 2020 to connect people returning from detention with services and resources including substance use and mental health care, employment and workforce development, GED and college planning , vital document retrieval, food security and housing.
Despite these findings, the MOPD continues to struggle with manageable workloads for lawyers and sufficient support staff. Even using the 2005 standards set by the National Center for State Courts, MOPD attorneys are carrying workloads beyond that standard. At the same time, experimentation readiness has increased dramatically with the advent of body cameras and other forms of e-discovery.
In nearly all Maryland jurisdictions, MOPD attorneys represent clients that exceed even the outdated 2005 standard.
Of course, the important work of the MOPD does not lie only in the lawyers. The relationship between lawyers and support staff exceeds 2005 standards for administrative staff and secretaries, legal assistants and social workers.
According to the MOPD, the 2005 standards recommend a ratio of three attorneys for each employee or secretary, the MOPD has a ratio of 42, for paralegals the standard is 11: 1 between attorneys and paralegals, the MOPD has a ratio of 18: 1, and for the correct relationship between lawyers and social workers, there should be 51 social workers at the MOPD, while the effective staff is 26.
If we are to believe in a fair criminal justice system, we must ensure that the MOPD has adequate funding and support to zealously defend Maryland’s indigent people who have been criminally charged.
Editorial Advisory Board member Arthur F. Fergenson did not participate in this opinion.
MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE
James B. Astrachan, president
James K. Archibald
Gary E. Bair
Andre M. Davis
Arthur F. Fergenson
Julie C. Janofsky
Ericka N. King
Susan F. Martielli
Angela W. Russell
H. Mark Stichel
The Daily Record Editorial Advisory Board is made up of members of the legal profession who serve voluntarily and are independent from The Daily Record. Through their continuous exchange of views, board members attempt to develop consensus on issues that are important to the counter, the bar and the public. When their minds meet, unsigned opinions will result. In the event of a divergence or in the event of a conflict, the views of the majority and the names of the members who do not participate will be displayed. Community members are invited to contribute letters to the editor and / or columns on the views expressed by the Editorial Advisory Board.