Like most Americans obssesed with their jobs, David Gray Ross said he used to do a lot of complaining when he got home at night: the system was lousy; he worked hard just so someone else could foul things up; he threatened to quit about once a month.
Then one summer evening six years ago, he recalled, his exasperated wife told him to leave his job if things were so intolerable. The next day Ross resigned his position as judicial master in the Prince George's County juvenile court to begin his successful campaign to take up a new trade: county delegate to the General Assembly.
He would legislate for change in the system.
"It's been a series of little steps at a time," Ross said of his nine-year campaign against the existing juvenile justice system. "It's all about changing this system where someone is always blaming someone else and no one is taking responsibility for this outragous problem."
Those little steps finally are leading somewhere, Ross said. Last week, after years of serving as a delegate, working on the House committee that rules on juvenile bills, sitting on a special juvenile justice study commission, Ross introduced a collection of 15 bills bearing his name as sponsor or cosponsor that are designed to transform the state's juvenile court system.
Ross and experts testifying before the legislature believe the legislation is desparately needed. In Ross' own Prince George County, for instances, juvenile crime is up 25 per cent over last year.
As sincere as his rhetoric sounds, however - and even his critics believe he is sincere - Ross has a good number of detractors, mainly in the judicial establishment. Everyone agrees that juvenile courts aren't working. But the critics view Ross' plan as too "controversial" or "off the mark."
Ross - and the juvenile justice commission - want to abolish the master system and put full-fledged judges on the bench to hear juvenile cases to be heard in juvenile courts regardless of age or crime. He wants all juvenile criminals housed separately from adult criminals in state hospitals and institutions. He also wants to creat an interagency council at the local level to coordinate health, counseling, vocational and rehabiliation services for juveniles.
The master system currently is used in five counties and Baltimore City. Under that system, masters - not judges - hear juvenile cases and write opinions on guilt and punishment. Those opinions become court orders only when signed by a judge who did not hear the case.
Only one judge, Douglas H. Moore, juvenile judge in Montgomery County and a member of the Maryland Commission on Juvenile Justice, spoke in favor of abolishing the master system. Montgomery County is one of those jurisdictions that uses judges instead of masters.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., testified in opposition to any bill abolishing the master system. "If you do away with masters," Marshall said, "I'll have to hire more attorneys to appear before judges. I can use in terms with masters. And anyway, they (the judges) will have nowhere to send them (juveniles). There aren't enough institutions.
By making judges hear juvenile cases, Ross reasons that a new sense of responsibility will enter courtrooms and judges will take an active interest in overseeing all agencies for youths in trouble.
During his three years as master, Ross tried to do just that. He moved his court to neighborhoods, embarrassed foster homes until they found space for youths before his court, and visited schools and homes when possible.
"Local control, that's what I got out of it," Ross said. "The closer the authority, the more the kids listen, I'd like more small institutions in the county, so kids stay in the county."
At the time, Ross frequently was criticized as a master for trying to change things too quickly, but his supporters claim crime rates did drop in his area. That same charge was leveled at him last week.
"We plan to phase out masters over the next five years," said a representative of the Maryland Judicial Conference. "There is merit in doing this [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]