ANNAPOLIS — Phase IV of the Maryland Judiciary's five-phased COVID-19 emergency progressive reopening plan is in effect. Beginning Aug. 31, Maryland's circuit courts and the District Court of Maryland resumed statewide non-jury trials and contested hearings in civil, family and juvenile cases.
As previously restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, anyone entering a courthouse, including employees, is 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 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,” Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Maryland Court of Appeals, said in a posting on the Maryland Judiciary website.
She added, "The phased resumption of court operations combines health measures with operations protocols to serve the justice needs of the people of Maryland.”
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 livestreamed 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 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, according to Judge Laura Ripken, administrative judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit and chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges.
In criminal matters, the circuit courts will hear motions, expungement, violation of probation hearings, non-jury trials, status conferences and sentencings.
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.
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 district courts will begin hearing additional criminal, traffic and civil matters, including landlord-tenant failure to pay rent cases.
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 court hours and on the weekends.
“Courts are progressively expanding case types for hearings, both in-person and remotely,” Chief Judge John P. Morrissey, District Court of Maryland, said in a written statement on the Judiciary website. “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.
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/. Attorneys are available from 8:30 a.m. until 8 p.m., weekdays. In-person legal help in civil cases is available at several locations throughout Maryland; see https://www.mdcourts.gov/.
The Maryland Judiciary plans to move to the fifth and final phase of its COVID-19 reopening plan on Oct. 5, 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.