City prosecutors could get new home

Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemLocal GovernmentCheshireStephanie Rawlings-BlakeFrank M. Conaway, Sr.

Rent money for new Baltimore state's attorney offices survived the state's budget process this year and will be matched by the mayor, which means there's $1 million available in the coming fiscal year for roughly 200 lawyers and support staff to finally move out of the decrepit circuit courthouses into separate digs.

But what's unclear is what will happen to the court employees left behind. Renovations to the two buildings, divided into east and west halves with Calvert Street as the divider, will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a recent study.

Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway Sr. sent a letter to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on Thursday with a laundry list of complaints, then he sent a press release to the media with the same.

"Over the past 13 years I have been complaining about the deplorable conditions in the Circuit Court East and Clarence Mitchell buildings and it has gotten worse instead of better. It is not fair for me to stand by and let these conditions continue for my employees and the general public," Conaway's release said.

"There are a myriad of things that must be improved. During normal business hours there is only ONE cleaning person per building, and very limited maintenance workers. Some of the complaints I have received include mouse droppings on work stations, unsanitary restroom conditions (i.e. dirty toilets and no toilet paper), filthy hallways and offices, dirty windows, hanging wires, poor heating and air conditioning, and improperly working elevators."

In a statement, spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said the mayor "understands the long-standing issues related to the aging Circuit Court buildings" and pointed out that she and the city law department helped fund a feasibility study.

"The Mayor's Office and Department of General Services will carefully review Clerk Conaway's correspondence and respond to him directly," O'Doherty wrote.

He also confirmed that the mayor "budgeted additional funds this coming fiscal year" for new prosecutors' offices, something Baltimore State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein, who took office in January 2011, is passionate about.

Bernstein pitched the idea of a move to lawmakers at a February meeting, saying it was "an issue of public safety and being efficient in our operations."

His spokesman, Mark Cheshire, said the prosecutors' office is now "working with the mayor and the city counsel" to develop a workable plan. "They face very difficult economic times," Cheshire acknowledged.

In a telephone interview last week, Conaway said the departure of prosecutors won't help. The situation in the courthouse has gotten so bad, he said, that his own staff has brought in their own cleaning supplies.

"It is dirty in here, it is really dirty," he said, adding that the city is in charge of the cleaning contract. "There are people that just don't want to sit down and use these restrooms and what not. It's just awful, it really is, and I don't think it's fair" for employees, jurors or the public.

He added that the mayor should prioritize them as well.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com

twitter.com/triciabishop

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    Crime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemLocal GovernmentCheshireStephanie Rawlings-BlakeFrank M. Conaway, Sr.
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