More than 40 accused shoplifters, motor vehicle violators and rubber-check writers got an unexpected break yesterday from Prince George's County District Court, when their cases were effectively dropped en masse because nobody showed up to present the evidence against them.

The assistant state's attorneys assigned to prosecute them were at the Maryland State's Attorneys convention at Ocean City.

"The court is not going to cancel its business so that the prosecutors can go to a convention," said Fifth District Administrative Judge James M. Rea.

While most courts in Maryland had postponed their cases or were able to proceed with a skeletal staff, the District Court offices in Hyattsville and Oxon Hill were left with nobody to prosecute the scheduled cases, which ranged from shoplifting to assault and battery and drunken driving.

As a result, most of the 46 cases were put on the inactive docket. "Normally, most inactive cases do not come back for trial," Rea said.

Meanwhile, the circuit court in Prince George's County had no cases assigned. "Many months ago they knew this convention was coming up," said one court employe. "So they (the state's attorneys office) made sure not to schedule anything."

State's Attorney Arthur Marshall could not be reached at the Carousel Hotel, where the convention ends Saturday.

But a Prince George's County assistant state's attorney who did not want to be identified said that their office had written Judge Rea six months ago informing him of the convention dates, and asking him to accommodate them in his scheduling.

"This has been done for five years. Why they didn't do it this year I don't know. We're not down here playing you know. We have very important programs.

"When the judges have their conventions, ther's no court."