The Attorneys at Ortega Law could not be more excited to see Maryland courts begin to reopen in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Judge Ellen Barbera’s May 22, 2020 Executive Order outlines the plan for the full reopening of Maryland’s courts by October 2020. Maryland courts are currently on Phase One of a Five Phase plan, with expectations to move into Phase Two set for as early as Monday, June 8, 2020. Unfortunately, this also means anyone currently accused who is waiting for a jury trial will have to wait until at least October 5, 2020 for their case to be heard.
Since the court closures began in mid-March, the Courts have been hearing only select emergency matters and utilizing remote means, such as Zoom videoconferencing and telephone calls. The attorneys at Ortega Law can speak to the procedures here in Anne Arundel County over these last few months and we have been nothing short of impressed with the creativity, dedication, and responsiveness shown by the Judges in Anne Arundel County throughout this unprecedented time. The communication from the courts in Anne Arundel County has been steady and has allowed attorneys to understand what path they should take as they help their clients.
On June 8, 2020 Maryland courts are expected to move into Phase Two. While the courts will still be encouraged to utilize remote hearings, some hearings will be heard in the courthouse with people present. For example, on June 8, District Courts will begin hearing Temporary and Final Protective Order Hearings with the Petitioners and Respondents present in the courtroom. Some Respondents have had an Interim Order issued by the District Court Commissioner in place since mid-March and are only now finally having their day in court. This relief could not have come soon enough for many people. Even some of Ortega Law’s clients have been unable to see their children in the months following the granting of Interim Protective Orders by District Court Commissioner’s without the opportunity to be heard.
Additionally, on June 8, 2020 District Courts can also begin hearing cases where witnesses are not required. Examples of these types of hearings include guilty pleas or preliminary hearings where no testimony is required.
On July 20, 2020, Phase Three of the court’s plan to reopen is scheduled to begin. While the courts will still be encouraged to use remote communication to conduct some hearings, the courts will finally begin hearing matters inside the courthouse where witnesses may be called upon. Phase Three represents the first real opening of the courthouses to normal practices, albeit in a limited capacity at first.
The District Court will also hear other types of cases including contested preliminary hearings, non-jury trials where the defendant is incarcerated, any cases in which the allegations involve some form of violence, and cases related to consuming alcohol or drugs while driving. The District Court will also be hearing motions, holding expungement hearings, and addressing probation violations.
The Circuit Court will begin hearing juvenile adjudications. This is a huge step toward reopening as some of the juveniles awaiting trial have been detained with no hearing date scheduled for months.
On August 31, 2020 Phase Four is expected to be ready, at which time all types of non-jury trials would be heard inside the courthouse.
Finally, by October 5, 2020, Phase Five will allow the courts to resume full operations, including jury trials.
Judge Barbera’s May 22, 2020 order was 28 pages and this short blog was aimed at hitting some of the main highlights. Please reach out to the attorneys at Ortega Law for any specific questions about the updates on practices and procedures for Anne Arundel County.