PUBLIC DEFENDER v. State, 9 September.Term

CourtCourt of Appeals of Maryland
Citation413 Md. 411,993 A.2d 55
Docket NumberNo. 9 September.Term,2009.,9 September.Term
PartiesOFFICE OF the PUBLIC DEFENDER, et al. v. STATE of Maryland.
Decision Date16 April 2010

993 A.2d 55
413 Md. 411

STATE of Maryland.

No. 9 September.Term, 2009.

Court of Appeals of Maryland.

April 16, 2010.

993 A.2d 56


993 A.2d 57

Peter F. Rose. Gen. Counsel (Nancy S. Forster, Public Defender, Baltimore, MD), on brief for Appellants.

Andrew H. Baida (Caroline L. Hecker of Rosenberg, Martin, Greenberg, LLP, Baltimore, MD), on brief for Appellees.



In the present case, we must determine whether a Maryland trial court possesses the authority, statutory or otherwise, to appoint an attorney from a local Office of the State Public Defender ("OPD") to represent a criminal defendant who qualifies for public representation based on indigency, as defined by the Maryland Code, upon the court's finding that the local OPD denied previously and erroneously representation to the defendant. For reasons we shall explain, we answer that question in the affirmative. As such, we shall hold that the Circuit Court for Cecil County did not exceed its authority when it appointed John K. Northrop ("Northrop"), the Deputy District Public Defender for Cecil County, or a member of his office or a panel attorney, to represent Jason Flynn Stinnett ("Stinnett"), a criminal defendant whom the Circuit Court found qualified as indigent under the Maryland Code, but to whom representation had been denied previously and wrongfully by the local OPD. Despite our holding, we shall reverse the Circuit Court's judgment of contempt against Northrop, issued in response to his refusal (on orders from his superiors) to appear in court on Stinnett's behalf in accordance with the order of appointment, because the Circuit Court failed to comply with the mandatory requirements of the Maryland Rules governing contempt judgments.


Jason Flynn Stinnett was indicted by a grand jury in Cecil County on multiple

993 A.2d 58
burglary charges and other related offenses. Stinnett applied timely for public legal representation from the local OPD. On 19 March 2008, the local OPD determined that Stinnett failed to meet the requirements for its services because his income1 exceeded 110% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines,2 the limit to qualify for representation by the OPD according to COMAR and D(2).4 Thus, the local OPD informed Stinnett, by letter dated 19 March 2008, that, because his income exceeded the maximum net income level, he did not qualify for representation by that agency

On 7 April 2008, Stinnett appeared, unrepresented by counsel, at a status hearing before the Circuit Court and requested that an attorney be appointed for him because he could not afford to retain private counsel and the local OPD had denied representation. Upon Stinnett's request, the trial judge proceeded (at some length) to describe his perception of the relative roles of the local OPD and the court in providing counsel for indigent defendants,

993 A.2d 59
and the authority of the court to appoint counsel on an indigent defendant's behalf where the local OPD denies representation

Our Chief Administrative Judge here... has indicated that he has researched this matter and has determined that case law does not seem to indicate that we cannot appoint the Public Defender's ourselves and has ask (sic) us, other judges, from now on that if we do find indigency to actually appoint the Public Defender. He said he's reviewed the cases and there is some dicta about their being Executive Agency, but he does not believe that's controlling because the issues before the Appellate Court, at that time, were not those that dealt with the authority of the Court to appoint the Public Defender's Office to represent somebody. I just checked with ... the Acting Administrative Judge, and he says exactly the same thing. That, if we do find a defendant indigent, we are to appoint the Public Defender's Office itself to represent the defendant. And the Court has done a lot of investigation on this, previously, personally talked with Judge Bell, this Court had ordered... or requested the Court Clerks to research this issue about 5 years ago and we had researched 42 other states, we hadn't quite got all 50, and every single one, the Court always has the authority, at least as a last resort to appoint the Public Defender. In speaking with Judge Bell, Judge Bell told me, personally, on the telephone that he had researched all 50 states and all 50 ... Maryland would be the only one that, it didn't seem to him, that we had a direct authority to appoint the Public Defender. But, he didn't say that prohibited it, either.
Anyway, I'm following the Administrative Judges (sic) and the Acting Administrative Judges (sic) decisions that we are to appoint the Public Defender if we do find indigency.
* * *
The next thing, under Article 27A, Section 7,5 it's the Public Defender article. It talks about the duty of the Public Defender's Office. Um ... to provide representation and it follows the case, I believe, of State v. Baldwin,6 if I'm remembering this correctly.
Anyway, as a result of the case, the case spelled out what the Public Defender's Office has to do in determining whether a defendant qualifies for the Public Defender's services. It also states, basically, that the Court has to do the same thing when it makes it's (sic) own determination. Although, it does make a separate, independent determination. And the Court certainly will do that. But what happened after Article 27A, Section 1 et sec. (sic) was passed, evidently the Public Defender's Office then went and got a regulation passed which was actually contrary to the ... Art. 27A, Sec. 1 and thereafter. In that it used a formula which is not at all what Baldwin v. State says or State v. Baldwin. You have to figure each case separately and then there is supposedly the District Public Defender then can review some... a determination made by the local
993 A.2d 60
Public Defender's Office, but that certainly is not presented to any defendant and the determination factor is 110% of the Federal Poverty guidelines for Circuit Court cases. There's absolutely nothing in the underlying case which provided for those factors to be used.

Following this explication, the court proceeded to conduct an indigency hearing, examining the factors to be considered in determining indigency contained in Maryland Code, Article 27A, § 7;7 COMAR; and Baldwin;8 rather than applying the maximum income level rule contained in COMAR and D(2), the standard used by the local OPD with regard to Stinnett's application. In doing so, the Circuit Court maintained that, under Baldwin, any determination of indigency, whether conducted by the local OPD or a trial court, must take into account the statutory indigency factors contained in Art. 27A, § 7, and COMAR, and that the local OPD acted contrary to the mandates of Baldwin when it considered solely whether Stinnett's net annual income exceeded 110% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines.

Turning to examine the specifics of Stinnett's financial situation, in response to the court's questioning, Stinnett testified that: (1) he was employed with Mid-Atlantic Electrical Contractors, a job which paid him $19 per hour (resulting in a net take-home income of approximately $2123 per month), without any opportunity for overtime; (2) he had approximately $400 in a bank account and no other assets that could be liquidated to pay for an attorney; (3) at the time of the hearing, he resided in a halfway house, paying $650 per month in boarding costs and $65 per month for food; (4) he had been ordered by the Circuit Court for Harford County to pay $331 per month in restitution arising from a prior robbery conviction; (5) he paid the entirety of his daughter's private school tuition, at a cost of $440 per month; (6) he spent approximately $108 per month to purchase lunch; and, (7) he paid $520 per month for transportation operating costs to and from work in a vehicle loaned to him by his father. In addition, based on standard

993 A.2d 61
child support calculations, the Circuit Court determined that Stinnett's expenses relating to the shared custody of his daughter amounted to $420 per month.

Totaling Stinnett's income and expenses, each aspect of which it found to be "fair and reasonable," the Circuit Court determined that Stinnett had, in fact, no net income; Stinnett's net income of $2123 per month fell well below the $2534 in expenses he incurred each month. In addition, the Circuit Court found that the reasonable cost for a private attorney to represent Stinnett would be between $3000 and $5000. On this basis, the judge determined that, despite the local OPD's conclusion to the contrary, Stinnett, in fact, was indigent under the factors enumerated in Art. 27A, § 7, and COMAR, as explicated in Baldwin, and was entitled to the appointment of an attorney at the State's expense. Accordingly, the Circuit Court issued an order9 naming Northrop, the Deputy District Public Defender for Cecil County, or another qualified attorney from the local OPD or its list of panel attorneys, to represent Stinnett.10 Northrop filed a notice of appeal from the order appointing him counsel for Stinnett, but did not seek to stay its effect pending the outcome of the appeal.

At a later hearing in Stinnett's case, held on 8 August 2008, Northrop did not appear. As a result, the trial judge found him in direct contempt of court and fined him $10.00. Subsequent to the contempt finding against Northrop, Stinnett entered a guilty plea, which the Circuit Court accepted, and was sentenced to a three-year term of imprisonment, suspended, and two years unsupervised probation. Stinnett did not appeal the judgment entered against him. On the other hand, Northrop noted an appeal to the Court of Special Appeals from the 8 August 2008 order...

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