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Maryland courts plan to gradually reopen

Courts

The Maryland court system plans to gradually return to full operation throughout the next several weeks and months.

The courts began the second phase of their plan this week which will may include limited in-person court proceedings. The courts will still be closed to the public except for those who are necessary to the matters being heard, according to a Maryland Judiciary press release. Each phase will represent an increase in the level of activity within each courthouse and court office. Depending on the current state of COVID-19 throughout Maryland, it may be necessary for a jurisdiction to adjust phases.

As outlined in the administrative order by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Phase III, which is expected to begin July 20, will mark the milestone in which the clerks’ offices in both the District Court of Maryland and circuit courts will fully open to the public, if they are able to do so. At this time, a broader range of court matters will also be scheduled.

The courts will require individuals, including employees, to answer a set of COVID-19 screening questions, be subject to temperature checks, wear a facial covering or mask, and practice social distancing. If an individual is denied access to a court building or court office, the individual will be given information on the option to conduct the hearing remotely, in locations where this service is available, or how to have it rescheduled.

At the local level, administrative judges may limit the number of people entering the courthouse or a courtroom, according to the press release.

All jury trials, both civil and criminal, will resume and trial dates will be scheduled beginning Oct. 5. Priority will be given to criminal trials and other urgent court matters, such as family law emergencies. Any jury trial previously scheduled between Oct. 5 and Dec. 31 will remain, unless otherwise ordered by the court’s administrative judge.

Regardless of the phase, the administrative order encourages the courts to continue using technology for remote proceedings, either through video or telephonic purposes, as outlined in the Amended Administrative Order on Remote Proceedings Held During the COVID-19 Emergency issued May 1. The stay on residential foreclosures and evictions will be lifted effective July 25.

“The details in the reopening plan were carefully and deliberately crafted by workgroups composed of Judiciary leadership, with the health and well-being of court visitors and employees as the driving force, in our work to increase access to the courts,” Barbera said in the press release. “We acknowledge the courts will not be able to immediately return to full operations. This phased return will guide the courts, as we continue to monitor health conditions in each of the twenty-four jurisdictions.”

District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John P. Morrissey said court personnel are working hard to put in health safeguards for both the public and court workers before opening the courts to the public.

“Differences in docket sizes, courtroom and courthouse layouts, and the number of judicial employees will affect the phases for every jurisdiction and court,” Morrissey said in the release.

As the phases change and evolve, notices will be posted within court facilities and online at www.mdcourts.gov/coronavirusupdate.

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