D.C. Superior Court judges have expressed serious reservations over plans to shift criminal prosecutions and courthouse security from federal to local control.
At the same time, the judges strongly objected to another proposal that would turn over to the mayor the power to name Superior Court appointees. The judges are currently appointed by the president.
The unusual action was taken Wednesday at a breakfast meeting of the court's Board of Judges. The three-page resolution was then forwarded to Mayor Marion Barry and released yesterday.
Sources said yesterday that the judges were upset that they had not been fully consulted by the Department of Justice and the D.C. government in connection with the transfer plans.
A high-level task force of federal and city officials has been organized to dicuss policy matters concerning the transfer. A second "working-level task force" has met regularly to draft legisation on the shift.
Earlier this year, Mayor Barry met with President Carter and Attorney General Griffin B. Bell, after which it was agreed that plans should be drawn up for the transfer. Currently, virtually all criminal cases in the city are prosecuted by the U.S. attorney's office and courthouse security is provided by the U.S. marshal service.
Politically, the move toward judicial autonomy for the District is seen by some observers as a vital step toward full home rule. Yesterday, a spokesman for the mayor said that while he has not seen the judges' resolution, Barry remains "committed" to the proposal for transfer, which is supported by the White House.
Acting D.C. Corporation Counsel Judith Rogers said yesterday that the chief judges of the D.C. Court of Appeals and the Superior Court were advised of the policy task force plans. Rogers said she and associate deputy attorney general Charles Ruff, both members of the task force, met with memberes of a committee of Superior Court judges established to consider the transfer plans.
Sources said that in the past several weeks, the committee has attended small luncheon meetings with other Superior Court judges to gather views on the proposal. These sources said the resolution passed Wednesday by the board, which is made up of all active Superior Court judges, was the result of those meetings.
In the resolution, the judges cited a "strong core of career (federal) prosecutors" who work in the Superior Court and dependence on deputy U.S. marshals for courtroom security and management of prisoners. The judges also noted the authority, under federal control, to call on other government agencies to act for the local court.
". . . The elimination of this entire complex structure without the most careful and detailed legal and fiscal planning for its replacement can do nothing less than create a severe instability in the administration of criminal justice in the District of Columbia," the resolution said.
The judges reserved their strongest language for comment on the appointment of judges by the mayor. The resolution noted that actions involving the district government are frequently heard in the court's civil division now. With the transfer of criminal prosecutions to local prosecutor, "the overwhelming majority of the litigation conducted in our court would involve the District of Columbia as a party."
In that situation, the resolution said, if the mayor also appointed the judges, the "necessary independence" of the judiciary would not be guaranteed.
Sources said the local judges also enjoy the prestige of a presidential appointment, which gives them the status of federal judges. The judges were also concerned that they would not be afforded the level of personal security, both in the courtroom and occasionally at their homes, which they now receive from the U.S. marshals service, these sources said.
U. S. Attorney Earl J. Silbert, in a letter of resignation to President Carter last week, flatly objected to the proposed transfer. If it occurs, Silbert said, the "quality and integrity of justice in the nation's capital. . . will seriously deteriorate."