Prince George's County District Court officials are investigating two court commissioners and their ties to a legal services company, three months after another court commissioner resigned when questions were raised about his affiliation with the firm.
The results of the latest investigation, conducted by Frank Kratovil, administrative judge for the District Court in Prince George's, were sent Friday to Martha F. Rasin, chief judge of the statewide District Court system.
Kratovil declined to identify the two commissioners or to divulge any details of his inquiry, which he said was prompted by revelations in July that another commissioner was earning money by selling legal services policies to defendants who appeared before him.
Rasin said she had yet to see Kratovil's report and could not comment on a personnel matter.
Commissioners are not judges and do not have to be lawyers, but they are judicial officers appointed by District Court officials. In Maryland, defendants often appear first before a court commissioner, who determines whether there is sufficient evidence to justify an arrest and determines the conditions of a suspect's release.
Like magistrates, commissioners are bound by essentially the same ethical rules as judges, including prohibitions on conflicts of interest and bans on profiting from their judicial positions.
In late July, Commissioner Kevin R. Owens resigned after questions were raised about his role as an independent membership salesman for Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc. The Oklahoma-based company gives members access to lawyers who provide legal services for reduced fees, according to the company.
Owens earned a commission for each membership he sold. Court officials began investigating Owens after a lawyer reported that he had sold legal services policies to two people who had appeared before him as defendants. Owens initially denied the allegation. He resigned the day an article describing the probe appeared in The Washington Post.
After the Owens revelations, Kratovil said yesterday, he sent a list of court commissioners to Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc. and asked whether any of them were affiliated with the company.
Company officials notified Kratovil last month that two current commissioners are affiliated with the company, the judge said. Kratovil declined to detail the nature of those affiliations.
However, Leslie Fisher, attorney resources director for Pre-Paid Legal Services Inc., said one of the commissioners is a member of the legal services plan. The other signed up to be a sales associate last spring but has not sold any memberships, Fisher said.