New program provides attorneys for indigent criminal defendants

Commissioner and defendant

A new Judiciary program, the first of its kind in the nation, is providing legal counsel to indigent criminal defendants during their initial appearances conducted by District Court commissioners. In order to staff that program, which began July 1, attorneys are being recruited by the District Court of Maryland.

The District Court of Maryland Appointed Attorneys Program provides compensation of $50 an hour, plus mileage and tolls, to attorneys who contribute their legal expertise and time to assist low-income Marylanders.

The statewide campaign was launched in May to comply with the DeWolfe v. Richmond opinion, issued by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which held that criminal defendants have a state constitutional right to legal representation when appearing in front of a commissioner.

There are more than 153,000 hearings across the state that will require attorney staffing. District Court commissioners operate 24 hours a days, 365 days a year, including holidays.

Chief Judge Morrissey quote

“This is a great opportunity for either a seasoned attorney who wants to work an occasional shift or a young attorney who would like to establish a criminal practice in a tough economic market,” said District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John P. Morrissey. “Our recruitment effort for attorneys is ongoing to ensure that the District Court has a sufficient number of attorneys present for all initial appearances.”

To be eligible for the program, an attorney must be licensed to practice in the state of Maryland, in good standing and not subject to any pending disciplinary proceedings. Attorneys must also comply with the program’s training requirements, certify that the rules on initial appearances have been reviewed, and complete an application form and sworn statement.

Staffing needs may vary according to each jurisdiction. In larger jurisdictions, multiple attorneys will be needed during day, evening, and overnight shifts. In smaller districts, attorneys may simply need to be available several hours each day. Attorneys can serve in multiple jurisdictions. The appointment and scheduling of attorneys will be coordinated from District Court Headquarters in Annapolis.

In lieu of compensation, attorneys may choose to donate their hours and receive pro bono credit. Interested attorneys may download an application at www.mdcourts.gov/district/appointedattorneys/, email their contact information to appointedattorneys@ mdcourts.gov, or call 410-260-1230.