The queue of people awaiting their time with Howard County District Judge Diane Schulte resembles a supermarket checkout line, sometimes stretching 20 or more from the bench.
The people, all charged with traffic offenses, line up for an expedited personal review of their case by the judge, who is seeking to quickly deal with the overabundance of traffic cases.
"We are not dealing with criminals in these cases," the judge said. "I do not believe we should tie up the courtroom when people want to plead guilty. It allows me to give more attention to the contested traffic cases."
On a typical day, she can handle 20 cases in 10 minutes.
But Schulte said another benefit of her "expedited plea procedure" is that people are more candid with a judge.
"The average citizen is not used to standing up in front of a courtroom full of people, and they don't want to appear to be begging," the judge said. "They speak more from the heart when looking me in the eye.
"Sometimes they will tell me they can't afford the higher costs of insurance if they get more points on their driver's license. Or, they say it was a gorgeous day and they had the radio on and they did not know how fast they were going. They are never going to be that truthful in open court."
The judge usually gives a stern lecture on the dangers of speeding, and for teen-agers, she'll sometimes refer to her "picture book," grisly photos to "make the point that speed kills." One photo shows a demolished van, and it notes the driver was decapitated when he hit the back of a truck while speeding.
In most cases, those who wait their turn in line end up getting their fines reduced and having fewer points placed on their driving record.
The bailiff warns in advance that she has a computer terminal and can pull up driving records in a moment for anyone trying to pull a fast one. Anyone who doesn't tell the truth, she warns, will be penalized.
Howard District Judge R. Russell Sadler said he takes guilty pleas the customary way, with the arresting officer describing the violation in open court and the defendant explaining his actions. He said he is concerned a person might plead guilty when "there may be mitigating circumstances."
Robert F. Sweeney, chief judge of Maryland's district courts, said Schulte's idea probably should not be uniformly applied, even though it clearly reduces the time defendants have to wait in court for their case to be heard.
"In the hands of a less sensitive judge than Judge Schulte, it would concern me," he said. "She is innovative and sensitive and takes no shortcuts, so I believe justice is served well in her courtroom."