- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland’s highest court has put a temporary hold on a trial judge’s order that attorneys be provided for indigent defendants at initial bail hearings. The Daily Record reports (http://bit.ly/1eDj8cG) that the Court of Appeals stay issued Tuesday raises the possibility that the court will reconsider its ruling that defendants have a right to counsel at those proceedings.

The stay was issued in response to a request from Attorney General Douglas Gansler for a review. It remains in effect at least until 4:30 p.m. on Jan. 23, the day the judges are scheduled to consider the state’s request to review Baltimore Circuit Judge Alfred Nance’s order. Nance had revised his earlier ruling in the case to bring it in line with the Court of Appeals‘ landmark decision.

Attorney Michael Schatzow, who represents the indigent defendants, says he is “disappointed” and will oppose the state’s request for high court review of its earlier decision.

“The court has declared the constitutional right,” said Schatzow. “Once the matter is fully briefed for the court, the court will do the right thing.”

In court papers, Gansler argued that Nance should have given the state a chance to address the cost and logistical challenges of providing counsel before revising his ruling.

“The circuit court’s precipitous action blinded itself to the complex challenges, faced by all three branches of government, as they grapple with the policy implications of adapting the existing pretrial system to accommodate the newly declared right to counsel at initial appearances,” Gansler wrote.

The court’s September ruling has prompted state officials to examine ways to comply with the requirement that counsel be provided at initial bail hearings. Maryland Public Defender Paul DeWolfe estimates the mandate could cost at least $28 million annually. In recent weeks, task forces have recommended reducing or eliminating initial bail hearings before District Court commissioners in favor of a single hearing before a judge.

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Information from: The Daily Record of Baltimore, http://www.mddailyrecord.com

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