Amid criticism that the state of Maryland is not moving quickly enough to compensate five men who spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) on Wednesday announced a new push to expedite the process.
Hogan made the announcement at the start of the twice-monthly meeting of the Board of Public Works. The three-member panel has the power to compensate people who are falsely imprisoned, but has chosen not to.
Hogan said he is urging the panel’s staff to reach out to officials in the judiciary, who he thinks are better equipped to determine fair compensation.
“I would like to ask the Board of Public Works’ general counsel to work on preparing a memorandum of understanding with the chief administrative law judge to immediately put into place a process which can ensure individualized consideration of every one of these important cases, so that these five innocent individuals can be compensated justly,” Hogan said.
Hogan repeated his belief that the BPW — made up of the governor, treasurer and comptroller — “clearly does not have the expertise, capacity or the personnel to determine what those actual damages… is.”
He also blamed the General Assembly for failing to pass legislation to compensate the five men, and he pledged to press lawmakers to act when they return to Annapolis in January.
“We are going to continue to push hard for legislative action and legislation which will lay out specific guidelines for any additional exonerees moving forward,” Hogan said.
Hogan’s colleagues on the panel — Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp and Comptroller Peter V.R Franchot, both Democrats — appeared to favor a less time-consuming remedy.
“The law does say the Board of Public Works may do this, and the Board of Public Works did do this [to compensate past victims],” said Kopp, a former legislator. “And I would just urge us to move very rapidly to take care of these men who are in the community now.”
“We have to act now on these people. … They’re not getting any younger,” she added.
Franchot said state leaders need “an objective criteria that can be applied.”
“These folks don’t have to go through all sorts of legal hoops and things to get compensated,” he added. “It can be fair and compassionate but also objective.”
Kopp and Franchot could out-vote Hogan on the three-person board, but neither made a motion to move forward more quickly. The governor chairs the panel.
Advocates for the five wrongfully convicted men say they spent a collective 120 years in prison.
Earlier this month nearly 50 members of the General Assembly — 47 Democrats and two Republicans — wrote to the BPW urging members to “promptly resolve the pending petitions for compensation” for the five — Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax, Clarence Shipley, and Hubert James Williams.
They were moved to advocate for the group after reading an article in The Washington Post and a column in The Baltimore Sun.
The letter was written by Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), who said the state needs to “own up to its mistake.”
In an interview following Wednesday’s BPW meeting, Hettleman called the governor’s move “half a loaf.”
“It’s good news that the governor recognizes that these five men deserve compensation now,” she said. “They [the BPW] could have acted today. I would have preferred that they had acted today. But at least it’s a step forward. It’s half a loaf but we’re getting there.”