Lawyers from Prince George's and Montgomery counties yesterday lost their effort to win State Bar Association approval of a new federal courthouse in the Maryland suburbs, despite a last-minute effort at the association's annual conference here to turn the meeting against Baltimore attorneys who opposed the move.
The proposal was defeated 116 to 167.
Reps. Steny Hoyer of Prince George's and Michael Barnes of Montgomery had promised to introduce legislation to fund the court if the bar association voted for it. Bills authorizing a new courthouse in Prince George's "not more than five miles from the border with Montgomery County" passed Congress in 1970, but legislation was needed to provide money.
Hoyer said funding legislation would stand little chance without the association's support.
The vote pitted lawyers from Baltimore, where the federal court for all of Maryland is located, against Washington area lawyers. Many Baltimore area lawyers now enjoy lucrative law practices based on cases before the federal court, and some lawyers from the Maryland suburbs of Washington bluntly acknowledged they would like some of that business.
"We ask you for a chance to let us make a living," Prince George's Bar Association President Karl Feissner pleaded before the vote. Several Prince George's lawyers flew here yesterday morning to vote for a new courthouse. A busload of Baltimore lawyers arrived to vote against it.
Most states have several federal courthouses. Virginia has 11 courthouses including one in Alexandria. West Virginia has seven courthouses around the state. Maryland has only one, however, at 101 West Lombard St. in Baltimore.
In Virginia's Eastern District, with five courthouses including Alexandria, 3,859 civil and criminal cases were filed last year. In West Virginia, 2,550 cases were filed. Last year, 4,052 cases were filed in Maryland.
Baltimore City trial lawyer Leo A. Hughes, head of the bar association's litigation division, argued that the new courthouse is not needed.
"The facts and figures don't justify it," he said, because too few cases come from the Washington area.
"The time will come," he said.
Edward P. Camus of Prince Geoirge's, who was one of four defense lawyers in the recent "death squad" suit in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore, said the vote "will be the end for now" of hopes for a new courthouse. "We will keep pushing," he added. "It will come eventually."
The judges of the U.S. District Court in Baltimore have unanimously opposed a new courthouse. Chief Judge Frank A. Kaufman said before yesterday's vote that it would be too expensive. "Where there are divisions of the kind that are sought, the cost is greater and the efficiency is less," he said. A new court would mean, for instance, new offices for federal prosecutors, public defenders, federal marshals, parole and probation workers, and court clerks.
"Ideally there would be a federal courthouse at every crossroads," Kaufman said.
"I don't blame any lawyer for saying, 'I want a courthouse across the street from me . . . .' The difficulty is that nobody has come up with the money."
Bill Weller, legislative affairs officers with the U.S. Courts Administration Office, said last week, "Most states, unlike Maryland, are not single-district states. Most have multiple judicial districts and at least one principle place of holding court in each, and most districts have multiple divisions." He said Congress has closed about 30 federal courthouses in the last decade to save money.
"I think that it's very much a shame," said Circuit Judge James McAuliffe, of Montgomery County, who introduced the motion for the new court district. Questions of cost should be left to Congress, he said. "What we should consider is whether the citizens need a separate court . . . . It's an extremely difficult situation."