Get used to a new name for the top courts

Maryland’s two highest courts have new names, as of this week: the Appellate Court of Maryland and the Supreme Court of Maryland.

The new names replace the confusing names of the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals. The Court of Special Appeals was the first level of appeals court in the state, and the Court of Appeals was the highest court — not that it was easy for non-lawyers to tell which was which.

Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved the name switcheroo in November’s general election. The new names went into effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday.

Along with the courts getting new names, the judges who serve on the highest court got new titles. They’ll be known as justices.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis hosts the Court of Special Appeals and the Court of Appeals. A state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2022 would rename the courts to the Appeals Court of Maryland and the Supreme Court of Maryland.
The courts that are housed at the Robert C. Murphy Courts of Appeal Building in Annapolis have new names: the Appellate Court of Maryland and the Supreme Court of Maryland. (Pamela Wood/The Baltimore Banner)

The highest court had quite a run under the name “Court of Appeals.” The court’s origins date to the mid-17th century and it was formally established in the Maryland Constitution in 1776, according to the Maryland Judiciary.

Even though the courts’ names are changing, they’ll carry on with the same business, Supreme Court of Maryland Chief Justice Matthew J. Fader said in a statement.

“Although the names are changing, Maryland’s highest courts and the entire Judiciary remain steadfastly committed to upholding the rule of law and achieving our mission of providing fair, efficient, and effective justice for all,” Fader said.

City Council honors outgoing State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and former sheriff John Anderson

The Baltimore City Council recognized outgoing State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby and former sheriff John Anderson at their last meeting of the year.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

At a Thursday afternoon hearing, the city’s top prosecutor joined her husband, City Council President Nick Mosby, behind the lectern to thank the council for their partnership during her eight years in office. The Democrat will leave her role as the city’s top prosecutor next month, a job she called the greatest joy of her life despite the challenges it presented.

“People don’t understand the sacrifice that it takes to be a public servant in a city where you raise your children, in a city that you love so much,” she told the council. “I’m so grateful for the work that you all do every single day.”

Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton recalled meeting Mosby before she ran for office.

“She was just full of energy and life and I just knew that this woman was going to be doing big things in our city,” she said. “Hold your head up high and keep moving and doing good things for our city.”

Middleton voted to immediately adopt a resolution honoring Marilyn Mosby for her tenure, which was introduced by Council President Mosby. The council passed her motion, but not without dissent from Councilman Zeke Cohen, who said he appreciates “every hardworking public servant, whether elected or not elected” but that he was concerned “this is neither the place nor time nor correct venue” for the resolution, saying that she is still in office.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Council President Mosby noted the meeting was the last one before her term ends. “In the past, we’ve honored two white men on this floor while they were still serving us,” he said.

“Obviously, Marilyn is my wife. That’s not a secret,” he said. “But I too can honor a strong, Black woman in the city who stood steadfast to move our city in the right direction.”

The council also honored Sheriff John Anderson, who served for more than three decades and worked for Baltimore for more than 50 years. Councilwoman Odette Ramos called him a dedicated public servant who oversaw “a lot of good things that have happened in the sheriff’s office.”

She noted that he oversaw the formation of the domestic violence unit, a specialized portion of the office dedicated to serving peace orders and protecting residents from intimate partner violence.

Council President Mosby said the council reached out to Anderson to invite him to the meeting.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

“Unfortunately he couldn’t make it, but we would absolutely love to have him to give him his flowers today as well,” he said.

More names joining the Moore administration

Gov.-elect Wes Moore is gradually building the team that will guide him in Annapolis once he’s sworn into office in January.

After winning the election in November, Moore, a Democrat, quickly announced a first round of appointments, including a budget secretary, appointments secretary and chief of staff.

The appointments have come more slowly since. The latest announced this week include:

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Moore also previously named a team that will work with chief of staff Fagan Harris:

Moore and Miller will be sworn into office at noon on Jan. 18.

Baltimore County councilmen share few words on water and sewer billing inequities

The Baltimore County Council had little to say about a contract and two purchase orders related to the county’s wonky water and sewer billing system at its work session Tuesday night.

One day after The Banner reported that an undisclosed county study conducted by engineering consultant Black & Veatch found numerous inconsistencies in the county’s utility billing system, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. asked the councilmen to greenlight a nearly $111,500 purchase order to hire Raftelis Financial Consultants to assess the county’s water rates and sewer charges in a cost-of-service analysis, as recommended by Black & Veatch.

“The cost-of-service and the third-party independent review is to make sure our rate structure and the rates that we, you know, must present through executive order every year, are valid,” county administrative officer Stacy Rodgers said.

The Democrat also wants council approval to spend more than $380,000 to inspect and repair broken water meters — a continuation of work the county says Itron began in October 2020 to the tune of $783,000, approved by the council.

The meters measure the volume of water a ratepayer consumes which, for nearly all customers, is used to determine their sewer service charges. Itron owns Baltimore’s water meter data collection system, used to bill county utility customers.

The county exercised emergency powers during the coronavirus pandemic to quickly procure the Itron contract to assist Baltimore’s understaffed Department of Public Works with meter readings.

The county says Itron will repair around 1,320 broken meters. County auditors say the repairs will add $1.6 million to the county’s Metropolitan District fund, which must be revenue-neutral. The enterprise fund pays for water and sewer service and court-ordered upgrades to aging infrastructure.

The July 2021 Black & Veatch report obtained by The Banner emphasized that sewer service charges for condominium owners are out of step with the vast majority of property owners and a half-dozen other utilities with which the consultant compared the county. Engineers consulting the county recommend the county revise its billing structure and methodology.

Among the suggested changes, Back & Veatch says the county should nix its policies that establish disparate sewer charges for condo owners, because they’re not billed by the county for water consumption. A group of 196 condo owners say they’ve been overcharged for sewer service and are challenging the county.

In an internal email obtained by The Banner, Rodgers agreed: The sewer service charges are “problematic” and the county has already been attempting for a year to resolve them, she wrote to a councilman July 23.

But there was little said about sewer charges at the Tuesday meeting. When Democratic Council Chair Julian Jones opened the floor for his fellow councilmen to discuss the utility billing analysis, he was met with resounding silence. He quickly moved on to the next item.

Just two councilmen, Republican Wade Kach and Democrat Izzy Patoka, alluded to Black & Veatch’s findings.

Utilities are “the nuts and bolts of government,” Patoka said. “We should charge based on [water] consumption,” he added, without directly referencing sewer service charges.

“For some reason we struggle — I don’t think it’s our fault — I think it’s something we can work on with our partners,” Patoka added, referring to Baltimore, with which it shares a water system. Baltimore bills county customers for water delivery, which is separate from county water distribution and and sewer service charges tacked onto property tax bills.

“Please know that we are fully aligned,” Rodgers said, adding she would share a page of “the report that was submitted and approved by the County Executive and the mayor of Baltimore City in July of 2021,” when the Black & Veatch report was dated.

“It’s a big report,” she told Patoka; too dense for her to share electronically, she said.

Shortly thereafter, Kach iterated the county doesn’t forgive potentially irregular charges related to “the use of the water in regard to the sewerage charge.” The city does, he said, and the county uses water meter data from Baltimore Public Works — which has had long-running water billing issues — to calculate county customers’ sewage fees.

“It’s been an issue since I’ve been on the council the last eight years,” Kach told Rodgers.

“We’re happy to brief you on why the city forgives certain water bills,” Rodgers responded.

“There is a reason the sewer part is not reduced. We have to work with the city to do a reduction,” she said, offering no additional context.

The council is also expected to vote on a “retroactive” purchase order for “temporary staffing services” provided by Robert Half International related to water and sewer research, Walker told the council Tuesday during the online-only meeting.

The Hogans meet the Moores

Gov.-elect Wes Moore doesn’t know exactly when he and his family will be moving into the governor’s mansion in Annapolis, but they’ve already gotten a tour.

Outgoing Gov. Larry Hogan and his wife, Yumi Hogan, welcomed the Moores for a tour of the mansion — officially called Government House — on Friday, well ahead of the big move.

The Hogans and the Moores — Wes, wife Dawn and kids Mia and James — posed for pictures on the steps of the mansion before heading inside for a private meeting.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, center, and his wife Yumi Hogan, welcome Gov.-elect Wes Moore and family -- wife Dawn, daughter Mia, son James -- to Government House in Annapolis for a tour on Dec. 16, 2022.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, center, and his wife Yumi Hogan, welcome Gov.-elect Wes Moore and family — wife Dawn, daughter Mia and son James — to Government House in Annapolis for a tour on Dec. 16, 2022. (Pamela Wood)

Moore emerged more than an hour later clutching blueprints of the mansion, built in 1870 directly across from the State House for the specific purpose of housing the state’s governors. It has both private living quarters and rooms that can be used for public events.

“The tour was fantastic,” Moore, a Democrat, said afterward. “They’re very, very kind and very gracious, and they took their time showing us all the rooms and all the secret handshakes. So it was a lot of fun.”

The kids got to see their options for their rooms, and the Hogans showed the dog-friendly parts of the house, Moore said. The Hogans have two dogs and the Moores promised their children they would get a dog.

When the Hogans move out, they won’t be going too far. They bought a mansion in Davidsonville in 2021 for their post-gubernatorial life.

More From The Banner