ANNAPOLIS — The Maryland Judiciary began Phase IV of its five-phased COVID-19 emergency progressive reopening plan Aug. 31. Maryland’s circuit courts and the District Court of Maryland will resume statewide non-jury trials and contested hearings in civil, family, and juvenile cases.
Anyone entering a courthouse, including employees, are required to wear a mask or face covering; submit to a written or verbal questionnaire regarding any COVID-19 related symptoms; and submit to a contactless thermometer temperature check. These measures are in place as additional safety precautions to help protect the well-being of all court visitors, judges, and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are moving cautiously, as planned, into Phase IV of the Judiciary’s reopening plan and are now resuming all court operations except for jury trials,” said Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Maryland Court of Appeals. “Dockets will be restricted in size, and face masks, social distancing, temperature checks at building entrances, and other measures will remain in place to help to protect the public, judges, and Judiciary staff to the extent possible. We will continue to follow best practices recommended by the Maryland Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The phased resumption of court operations combines health measures with operations protocols to serve the justice needs of the people of Maryland.”
According to Katherine Hager, Clerk of Queen Anne’s County Circuit Court, “With Phase IV, we are no longer requiring appointments. We are doing marriage licenses without appointments. But we do still require appointments for civil ceremonies.”
“With the new building we are able to maintain social distancing even better than the old building. There is more space now. The old building was smaller,” said Hager, noting, “We do still require masks and social distancing.”
The Maryland Court of Appeals has remained fully operational since Phase II. Given the size of the courtroom and bench, arguments are being held remotely and continue to be live streamed on the Judiciary’s website at mdcourts.gov. The Court of Special Appeals also is fully operational, with most hearings held remotely. Mediation conducted by the Court of Special Appeals’ Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) division also may be handled remotely.
“Circuit Courts will continue to hear all matters that have been heard in Phase III and further expand those matters being heard in Phase IV. In criminal matters, the courts will hear motions, expungement, violation of probation hearings, non-jury trials, status conferences, and sentencing,” said Judge Laura Ripken, administrative judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit and chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges. “In civil matters, the courts will hear motions, settlements, and attorney discipline cases, as well as court trials. In family law, the courts will hear domestic violence cases, motions, pendente lite hearings, contempt proceedings, adoptions, guardianships, child support, settlements, court-ordered mediations and merits hearings.”
In Phase IV, circuit court cases involving a child in need of assistance (CINA) and juvenile delinquency cases are fully operational, as well as circuit court problem-solving courts are fully operational. Problem-solving courts continue to be operational, with remote and in-person proceedings, as appropriate. Circuit courts will continue to operate with a combination of remote as well as in-person hearings.
During Phase IV in the District Court of Maryland, all court matters in the first three phases of the Judiciary’s reopening plan will continue to be heard, plus the District Court will begin hearing additional criminal and traffic matters. In addition, civil matters, including landlord-tenant failure to pay rent cases, will be heard, and problem-solving courts will continue to be operational. District Court Commissioners’ offices are fully operational and continue to process domestic violence protective orders, peace orders, extreme risk protective orders, and emergency evaluations after normal courts and on the weekends.
“Courts are progressively expanding case types for hearings, both in-person and remotely,” said Chief Judge John P. Morrissey, District Court of Maryland. “Throughout these past several months, the courts have developed and implemented staggered docket times and reduced docket sizes and have incorporated remote hearings to ensure that best practices consistent with COVID-19 safety protocols are maintained.”
Individuals who have business with the courts should check the Judiciary’s website at mdcourts.gov, or call the clerk’s office for information before arriving at a courthouse location.
Courts across Maryland will continue using technology for remote proceedings, either by video or telephone, but it will vary by court location.
In addition, individuals without an attorney who need help navigating the court system or need no-cost civil legal assistance can contact the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center at 410-260-1392, or by online chat services at https://www.mdcourts.gov/selfhelp/mcshc. Attorneys are available from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., Monday through Friday. In-person legal help in civil cases is available at several locations throughout Maryland, https://www.mdcourts.gov/selfhelp/inperson.
The Maryland Judiciary plans to move to the fifth and final phase of its COVID-19 reopening plan on Oct. 5, 2020, as outlined in the current administrative order, subject to COVID-19 conditions. Once implemented, Phase V will mark the resumption of jury trials and the Judiciary’s statewide completion of its return to full operations at all four levels of Maryland’s courts.
Find more information on COVID-19 and court operations online at https://mdcourts.gov/coronavirusinformationforpublic.