Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bench conferences now secret in Baltimore - Circuit Court exchanges no longer part of public record

 Bench conferences - behind-the-curtain glimpses of candor between judges and attorneys in court - can no longer be viewed by the public in Baltimore City Circuit Court.

The recent development, which belatedly enforces a year-old rule, undoes a history of access and diverges from policies in some other jurisdictions.

Such conversations, held privately at the front of the courtroom during public proceedings, often contain the meat of the case, including the details of plea arrangements and sometimes even entire sentencings. Without access to them, the public might never know the outcome of particular cases.

The guideline also appears to conflict with a general belief in the legal community that the useful conversations, which allow lawyers to talk freely about the merits of a case, are typically open.

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