By: Bryan P. Sears
Daily Record Government Reporter
ANNAPOLIS — Five wrongly convicted men awaiting compensation from the state may only have a few weeks to wait for an offer to repay them for years spent locked in prison.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday the Board of Public Works will move forward with preparing compensation agreements while lawyers in his office continue to work on a broader agreement with the Office of Administrative Hearings to handle future cases until the General Assembly can pass legislation.
“However, once again, I do not believe these five individuals should have to wait any longer,” Hogan said.
The governor said those agreements, for an amount not made public, would be presented to the three-member board at its next meeting, Oct. 30.
The five men — Jerome Johnson, Lamar Johnson, Walter Lomax, Clarence Shipley and Hubert James Williams — have petitioned the board under state law. In July, attorneys for four of the men sent a letter to the board asking for action.
The exonerees spent a combined 120 years in prison.
State law allows for the three-member board to set compensation for exonerees, but Hogan said the panel lacks the staff and expertise to establish payments in such cases.
The panel approved compensation for another wrongly convicted person in 2004 based on a per-diem rate that was in line with other states at the time. Based on those costs plus inflation, that rate could amount to about $75,000 per year per person.
Treasurer Nancy Kopp praised the announcement but lamented the time it has taken to settle the issue.
“I wish it were decided today,” said Kopp. “It’s many years too late. I don’t think any of us could imagine that we could actually compensate someone for spending years, decades in prison when they were innocent. We are going to come to a solution. We are going to act and those five people will be taken care of.
But Kopp said the state needs to develop a policy for compensating exonerees the next time a case comes up.
The legislature has worked on a bill in past sessions but was unable to send one to the governor. Hogan said he plans to work with lawmakers to craft a bill that can pass in the 2020 session.
Two weeks ago, Comptroller Peter Franchot called on Hogan to bring a settlement to the Board of Public Works by Wednesday.
The governor in September said he planned to ask the Office of Administrative Hearings to establish a process for determining compensation for exonerees. Those efforts have become mired in complicated legal concerns. Hogan said while an agreement is being finalized, he wants to move forward with compensating the five men.
“The very least that we can do as leaders of state government is compensate these five individuals,” Franchot agreed.