A state senator is looking to create a statewide uniform policy to collect data that would assess the policies and procedures of Maryland’s 24 state’s attorney’s offices.
Senate Bill 617, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Sydnor III (D-Baltimore County), builds on several recommendations from a task force that met last year to discuss the performance of the state’s local prosecutors.
Sydnor’s bill seeks to remedy a major flaw in the current system that the task force identified: some state’s attorney’s offices lack case management systems or need to modernize them, to collect and house data. Case managements systems, also referred to as CMS, are computer software that keeps track of civil and criminal cases.
The legislation proposes that state’s attorneys apply for a grant through a new State’s Attorney Case Management System Grant Fund to modernize and unify their data systems.
According to an analysis of the bill, about $1 million would be available for state’s attorneys’ offices to establish or improve case management systems starting next fiscal year through fiscal year 2027.
“Ongoing capitalization needs are possible, but the amount that may be needed for grant awards beyond fiscal 2027 is unknown,” the analysis from the Department of Legislative Services said.
Sydnor, who served as co-chair of the task force, presented the bill Friday before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, where he serves.
“We went in with the expectation that everyone had already had these CMS systems [and] come to find out they don’t,” said Sydnor, speaking about the task force’s work. “We [came together] looking to bring some clarity and some transparency to the office. You can’t really get the transparency until you make certain everybody has a system and that systems can speak with one another.”
The task force’s final report noted that Garrett, Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties don’t have case management systems at all.
Eleven counties use a system called Prosecutor by Karpel, which is based in St. Louis.
Eight counties use Judicial Dialog Systems (JDS). The company’s LinkedIn profile notes it’s based in Monrovia in Frederick County.
Calvert County uses software from JustWare, developed by Journal Technologies of Los Angeles.
Kent County uses Microsoft Access.
‘A train wreck’
Under the legislation, the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services would administer and establish procedures for state’s attorneys’ offices to apply for and receive grants.
To handle any additional administrative workload, another $80,439 would be needed in the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention next fiscal year to hire a part-time grant specialist and part-time fiscal officer. The money includes salaries, fringe benefits, one-time start-up costs and operating expenses.
According to the bill, state’s attorneys that apply for a grant should provide a description of whether the additional funds would establish or improve a case management system.
Sydnor said certain data from the task force’s recommendations should be listed to show what a prosecutor’s office would gather. Some of that includes the assigned prosecutor in a case, charges at time of an arrest and final disposition of all charges.
Because the fund would last at least another three years, the task force would remain in effect until June 30, 2027. It was scheduled to terminate on June 30 of this year.
The bill also proposes that another three members join the task force: representatives from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, the Office of the Attorney General, and the Office of the Public Defender.
The task force would be required to submit an annual report by Dec. 31 each year.
Steven Kroll, executive director of the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, was the only person who testified Friday in opposition to the bill. Kroll said several state’s attorneys’ offices have contracts to collect data with vendors that can last between five to 10 years.
“They’re very expensive and very long term,” he said. “So, in order to break those contracts and get more of those contracts will cost a lot of money, which is what I think the fiscal note will be all about from there.”
Kroll summarized his opposition to allowing the state’s public defender or a designee serve to on the task force by using a reference from season two, episode six of the Apple TV series, “The Bear.”
“For those who haven’t seen that, I welcome you to see that,” he said. “That will be a train wreck, a bus wreck and a plane wreck all together. So please remove the public defender to avoid any future confrontation.”
Heather Warnken, executive director at the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore School of Law, said expanding the task force with additional members such as the public defender “diversifies” the group.
“This omission impeded our work,” said Warnken, who was appointed last year by Gov. Wes Moore (D) to serve on the task force. “Prosecutors are widely understood to be among the most powerful actors in the criminal justice system, wielding tremendous authority and discretion to pursue or decline criminal cases.”