Judge defers $57 million reimbursement ruling
Feb. 25, 2000

State argues against 30 years of payments for sheriff deputies

By Eyobong Ita

Staff Writer

February 24, 2000

An effort by Prince George's County to get a $57 million reimbursement from the state for costs incurred in providing security for the state District Court was kept alive in a Charles County court Wednesday.

Charles County Circuit Court Judge Steven G. Chappelle Wednesday deferred ruling on a motion for summary judgement filed by Prince George's County against the state of Maryland over the cost of having sheriff deputies in the District Court since 1971.

The county had filed the motion in La Plata, asking the court to hold the state in contempt for not obeying an earlier ruling to pay the county as ruled by the Appeals court in June.

The case arose out of a dispute over whether the state or Prince George's County has the responsibility for funding the District Court's security and process server functions.

The state has agreed to pay the county for the use of the deputies for the 2000 fiscal year, ending in June, and the 2001 fiscal year, according to Andrew H. Baida, senior counsel in the state's Attorney General's office who represented the state in La Plata Wednesday. That amounts to $148,000 annually. However, the county insists on being reimbursed for 30 years of expenses, dating from 1971.

"We have submitted a supplementary deficiency appropriation from Oct. 1999 to June 2000 to the General Assembly, and we've also included the cost for District Court security in the budget from July 1 and June 2001," Baida said.

County Attorney Sean D. Wallace said the state's refusal to reimburse the county for the 30 years of expenses is only part of the disagreement.

"In addition, there's an issue about security in the courtroom that they've made no provision for reimbursement and security of people appearing before the court," Wallace said outside the courthouse.

The case between the state and the county stemmed from a 1996 lawsuit against the county's Sheriff department by Southern Management Co., a firm that operates residential apartment complexes, according to court documents. The management had sued then Sheriff James Aluisi and Prince George's County, alleging that the Sheriff's office failed to serve process in landlord-tenant actions involving the corporation. The complaint requested that the Sheriff be required to serve all process and that the County be required to adequately fund the sheriff's office.

The sheriff responded by filing a cross claim against the county, requesting "declarative and injunctive relief" with respect to the issue of inadequate funding. The management corporation later dismissed its complaint against the county and sought relief only against Aluisi. The county then filed a cross claim against Aluisi, alleging waste and mismanagement of county funds by the sheriff's office and requesting an audit and the appointment of a receiver. The county also filed a third-party complaint against the State of Maryland, the state's Chief Judge, Martha F. Rasin, and the county's District Court's Administrative Judge for District 5, Frank M. Kratovil. In the three-party suit, the county requested a declaratory judgement, an injunction requiring the state and the state officials to provide process service and court security for the District Court at state expense, reimbursement for the costs of those services already provided "from 1971 to present," and a writ of mandamus directing the state officials to appoint constables to serve process.

In 1997, Judge Steven Chappelle was brought in to handle the case since he was not from the county.

Chappelle had ruled at the Prince George's County Circuit Court that the county was liable for the court costs for sheriff deputies. The county appealed, and in June the Appeals Court ruled that while the county was responsible for paying sheriff deputies for serving warrants, the state was responsible for paying for the courthouse security provided by sheriff deputies. The order required the state to pay the county more than $100,000 annually in payment dating back to 1971, and to pay for future security provided by the deputies from July 1999.

The case against Aluisi automatically ended when the former sheriff retired 15 months ago.

The rapport between Aluisi and County Executive Wayne Curry had gone sour after Aluisi sued the county five years ago. According to Aluisi, Curry inadequately funded the sheriff's department, now led by Sheriff Alonzo Black II.

Because of the lack of funds, the county's sheriff department has not hired deputies and civilian personnel since Dec. 12, 1994, leaving the agency with 92 vacant positions, The Gazette has learned.

Sixty-six sheriff deputies have quit within the last six years, and at least 20 deputies have left since Black was elected to head the county agency in November 1998, according to department statistics obtained by The Gazette.

The agency had 284 sworn deputies and civilian personnel in December 1994. As of last month, 192 personnel -- 138 deputies and 54 civilians -- were left, according to the department's data.

Thousands of warrant orders are issued annually by judges in the county courts. For instance, the department received 29,064 criminal orders in 1999, including 6,200 restraining orders on domestic violence cases.

Out of 29,064 criminal warrant orders issued in 1999, 27,501 were served, according to the sheriff department's statistics dated January 5. Also, 71 percent of the 6,200 warrant orders issued for domestic violence cases last year were served, while six of the warrants were recalled by the court, according to Sgt. Bill Ament, public information officer at the sheriff department.

The court recalled six warrants and the Warrants Review Board, set up by Sheriff Black to examine the validity of outstanding warrants, disposed of 96 warrants, Ament said.

After Wednesday's case in La Plata, attorneys for the state and the county left the courthouse hoping that Chappelle would rule in their favor.

"We think that we have a strong position that the Court of Appeals agrees with," said county attorney Wallace. "I would hope that the judge agrees with us, but I can't predict what the court because some of the earlier rulings were not in our favor."

"I hope that the judge rules in our favor," state counsel Baida said.