For nearly two decades, Danny Smith climbed the ranks in the Baltimore City Circuit Court from a file clerk in the Juvenile Division to the assignment commissioner. During his tenure, Smith served under three Clerks of the Court, including Frank Conaway Sr., who held the position for nearly 17 years before passing away in office in 2015.
In 2018, Smith threw his hat into the ring, ultimately losing to current Clerk of the Court, Marilyn F. Bentley, and retiring shortly thereafter.
Since his departure, Smith said the clerk’s office has fallen into deep disarray under the current administration—a situation he hopes will change as unofficial election results point toward Xavier A. Conaway, Frank Conaway Sr.’s grandson, as Bentley’s successor.
“I compare things to my managerial style and mine was that when you have good people, you take care of them,” said Smith, who recalled dozens of seasoned employees departing from the clerk’s office during Bentley’s tenure after an alleged decline in morale and functionality. “It should also be a process of inclusion, not exclusion, and giving them the tools necessary in order for them to do the job and complete that task.”
Smith, who continues to stay in contact with his former colleagues in the courthouse, said there are currently several vacant positions in the clerk’s division, including chief deputy clerk and assistant chief deputy clerk.
Maryland Judiciary Public Information officers Bradley Tanner and Terri Charles did not respond to Baltimore Witness to confirm the number of vacancies.
This election is “a chance to rebuild” the clerk’s office, Smith said, as “new leadership will prove to be the beginning of repairing and cleaning up” its current state.
One of the first moves the new Clerk of the Court needs to make is to surround himself or herself with experienced court professionals, Smith said. Bringing back former employees would be a great benefit to the clerk’s office, even if it were on a short-term basis to train new employees and restore morale and confidence.
The new Clerk of the Court must also review the policies and protocols put in place under the current administration, he noted, some of which negatively impacted court processes.
For example, in the past, if someone wanted to obtain a copy of their criminal record, they would go to the clerk’s office and provide identification as well as the estimated year and time of the offense. However, the current administration lengthened the process.
Currently, Smith said, those wanting a copy of their criminal record must fill out a form with similar information, which then travels from the Mitchell Courthouse to the Cummings Courthouse for Bentley to sign.
“The office will then communicate with you by mail and then you would be able to come back in and get a copy of your record, turning a 15 or 20-minute process for a citizen into a 10-day to two-week process,” Smith said.
Charles informed Baltimore Witness that Clerk Bentley declined to comment.
Clerk of the Court candidate Kim Banks, who has currently received the third-most votes behind Conaway and Lenora Dawson, said she watched colleagues, many of them long-time clerks, leave in droves, unable to continue their work under the current administration’s conditions.
“There has not been an open-door policy,” she said, unlike there was under the Conaway administration. “So, if you are having any challenges or problems, you have no one to turn to to assist you with resolving those issues.”
Banks has worked as a courtroom clerk training in Baltimore’s Circuit Court since March 2018, but she has worked with the courthouse in some capacity over the past 25 years.
Courthouse employees are having to purchase their own office supplies, all while using outdated computers, Banks added. There are approximately seven vacancies in the clerk’s office and no new hires, leaving current employees to be “shoved around from department to department” to fill in where necessary.
Banks said this has earned the office an in-house nickname: the Circus Court of Baltimore City.
“There needs to be a person elected to this position who is ready for change,” Banks said. “You cannot go into that position with the same mentality of business as usual. You have to know a little bit of what people’s jobs involve because those positions need to be filled.”
Like Smith, candidate Denise McCready said she’s also kept an eye on her old stomping grounds.
McCready has held seven positions over 45 years in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, most notably as the second-in-command chief deputy clerk prior to her departure in 2017.
“Because I had worked there for so long, I just like to keep up with what’s going on,” she said. McCready learned about the current lack of appreciation and value of the court’s employees, something she plans to reignite if elected.
“We also need to go through all of the departments and assess the needs of the departments and the employees to see what is needed to make them operate more efficiently and effectively,” McCready said. “Naturally, you want to improve with customer service. If you don’t have your employees in a culture or with the attitudes of being valued and appreciated, it doesn’t do anything for customer service.”
This will also help usher in the electronic court filing system, or MDEC, which she said was only briefly discussed prior to her departure.
The online system, which includes electronic filing as well as case and document management, began rolling out in Maryland in 2014 and was recently completed in Montgomery County last October, according to Maryland Courts.
MDEC has not yet launched in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City and no tentative dates have been announced.
“[MDEC in] Prince George’s County is being worked on now and Baltimore City probably won’t start until the end of 2023,” McCready said. “There are a lot of preparations as far as getting MDEC within the Circuit Court of Baltimore City.”
Clerk of the Court frontrunner Xavier Conaway and candidates Leonora Dawson and Shanai Dunmore did not respond to Baltimore Witness’ inquiries.