Baltimore Model Court

Brief History

In September 2005, the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts contracted with the National

Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) to institute a Model Court in Baltimore City. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City is a state trial court of unlimited jurisdiction. It handles all types of cases and is divided into four main divisions: Family, Juvenile, Criminal, and Civil. The Family Division of the Circuit Court for Baltimore City has two components, domestic and juvenile. The juvenile component hears child abuse and neglect cases and is comprised of three judges and ten masters who focus on assisting families in crisis with obtaining necessary services using programs, resources, and specialized personnel to address underlying family conflicts. In September 2008, Baltimore City was welcomed as a new Model Court transitioning from a contracted Model Court.

The Model Court is supported by Judge Robert Kershaw, Presiding Juvenile Division Judge-In-Charge, and Judge Bonita Dancy serves as the Lead Judge.

Leadership

Current Lead Judge:  Judge Bonita Dancy (ret.)

Past Lead Judge:  Judge Edward Hargadon (past Juvenile Division Judge-In-Charge) 

Court website - http://www.baltocts.state.md.us/divisions/juvenile.html

Successfully Implemented Signature Best Practices

1.  One Family-One Master (OFOM)

In January 2007, this docketing system assigning families to home courts in which every Juvenile Court case of every family member will be heard was implemented. With ten masters, there were eight home courts and two overflow courts. Because the three judges rotate out of Juvenile Court after one year and the ten masters are constant, the court established a One Family-One Master system. Judges and masters hear both Child In Need of Assistance (CINA) and delinquency cases, therefore the assignment system for both must be the same. A plan for the rotation for masters was devised. Every case open on Labor Day 2007 was assigned to one of the eight home court masters. One master handled overflow hearings. Another master conducted the Intake Court hearing arraignments, specials and shelter care hearings. New cases were assigned to home courts by the Intake Court. The intake master had accurate information as to how many families were assigned to each home court and assign accordingly to keep the distribution even. The home court masters hear CINA cases for five days then rotate to delinquency for five days.

An eleventh master’s position was funded in 2011. It was decided the home courts would be increased from eight to ten leaving one overflow court. This modification requires a number of cases to be shifted to different home courts, which shifts attorneys. This is the largest modification of this initiative. The slight decrease in cases in each home court may be beneficial to all.

The Baltimore City Model Court partnered with the University of Maryland, School of Social Work to begin court-based research development to evaluate the One Family-One Master, Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) Backlog and the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) initiatives.

2.  Reduction of TPR Backlog

In 2006, the TPR Backlog Committee identified the backlog as 350 cases still open 180 days or over. The December 2010 analysis showed the total number of open TPR cases at 174, the lowest number ever. Fifty-four of those cases have been open 180 days or over. The backlog has been reduced tremendously, but the Committee continues to review TPR cases to make certain each case is set for trial as soon as possible. There is extremely helpful support from the Model Court that continues to provide retired judges to handle TPR cases.

In addition to work on the backlog, the TPR Committee worked on Part III adoptions. By statute, parents may agree that adoption is in their child’s best interest and a CINA case immediately becomes an adoption case. No TPR case is required. The TPR Committee developed a protocol for the consent adoptions that was adapted for use. It has not been used because there is no process for anyone other than the Department of Social Services to file a request for adoption. This is the Committee’s next Part III task.

In 2007, this Committee developed forms to be completed before every hearing asking for the identity and address of parents not previously identified and the current address of parents present for the hearing. As locating parents continues to delay trials, this process was reviewed and the Committee developed ways to be certain the forms are completed. A mechanism was needed to ensure current information regarding parents would be immediately put into the EQUEST system where it becomes available to the Bench, attorneys and social workers. The Model Court continued implementing policies and procedures to reduce the number of TPR cases not disposed of within the statutory 180 days. These included:

●      Introduction of Parent Locator and Parent Identification forms to be completed and presented to the master or judge at every hearing. The intent is to identify and involve parents in child welfare cases early and to obtain and maintain correct addresses for parents. There is also a litany for judicial officers to use when no information/location forms are presented.

●      Modification of the docket schedules for the three Juvenile Court judges so that each judge hears TPR cases, and the cases are set based on each judge’s available trial time.

●      Implementation and consistent application of policy with clearly defined, strict criteria for postponements.

●      Implementation of a protocol for TPR settlement conferences conducted by a judge to settle or narrow issues for trial.

In fiscal year 2007, 285 TPR cases were filed, 3271 hearings were held and 299 cases were brought to disposition. Postponements were reduced by 34% compared to fiscal year 2006. The total number of TPR cases in June 2007 was 367. Sixty percent (60%) of those cases were not 180 days old. Judges have worked to try the oldest TPR cases first. Most, 94 of the 145 cases over 180 days in June 2007, were six months to one year beyond 180 days. The work to reduce the TPR backlog continues. The analysis from July 2012 indicates that there were 126 TPR cases open and 17 of those are over 180 days.

Additional Best Practices and Initiatives Implemented

Child Protection Mediation

Consultation hearing with children

Videoconferencing with youth

EQUEST case management system.

Current Goals

NATIONAL GOAL:  Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) Compliance & Tribal Engagement

The Baltimore Model Court continues to reach out to the urban Indian center that was previously identified. In addition, the Lead Judge strives to ensure each judge and master inquires ICWA applicability and make findings of ICWA applicability at every hearing.

STATE GOAL:  State-wide Implementation of the RESOURCE GUIDELINES Best Practices

As part of the statewide efforts, the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts Foster Care Court Improvement Project continues to institute Model Courts in the state since September 2005. While the Baltimore Model Court is now a grant-funded Model Court since 2008, it continues to share its experiences of being a Model Court across the state. Many initiatives and pilot programs implemented in Baltimore City are now implemented statewide and effected legislative change.

LOCAL GOAL:  Child Well-Being on Education

The Education Committee, chaired by Master Claudette Brown, created an education checklist that was piloted in two courtrooms. After several months of use, the checklist was evaluated and modified as necessary. A judge from the Washington, D.C. Model Court presented and shared experiences of the D.C. Model Court of developing and using its Education Checklist. While a committee is revising and incorporating several benchcards, including the CCC Preliminary Protective Hearing Benchcard, Education Checklist, and Consultation with Children Benchcard, it currently continues to be used in only one or two courtrooms.