The Maryland court system outlined its reopening plan on Friday.
Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued an administrative order providing guidance to courts statewide.
“The details in the reopening plan were carefully and deliberately crafted by workgroups composed of Judiciary leadership, with the health and wellbeing of court visitors and employees as the driving force, in our work to increase access to the courts,” Barbera said in a statement. “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.”
At 5 p.m. June 5, courts will move into the second phase of a five-phase plan. In the second phase, courts will remain closed to the public except for the people who need to be there for the matters being heard. Each phase will bring increased activity in each courthouse. Courts in particular jurisdictions may need to make adjustments based on local coronavirus concerns.
Courts will remain encouraged to conduct remote proceedings whenever possible.
“Remote proceedings have been useful and effective in facilitating the courts’ ability to carry out core functions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Judge Laura Ripken, administrative judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit and chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges. “The courts will continue to use technology for remote proceedings so that we can expand the types of matters that can be heard before the court.”
The administrative order anticipates the courts to move into the third phase of reopening on July 20. At that point, clerks’ offices in district and circuit courts will fully reopen to the public and a broader range of court matters will be scheduled.
Anybody, including employees, entering a courthouse or court office building will have to answer health screening questions and may be subject to temperature checks. Facial coverings and social distancing are required, officials said.
“We have worked tirelessly to make sure the safeguards necessary to protect, as much as reasonably possible, the health of the public, Judiciary personnel, and justice partners were in place before we open to the public,” said District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John P. Morrissey. “Differences in docket sizes, courtroom and courthouse layouts, and the number of judicial employees will affect the phases for every jurisdiction and court.”
Local administrative judges may limit courthouse or courtroom occupancy. The judiciary has worked to acquire personal protective equipment and install Plexiglas sneeze guards, signage and separation markers.
“The Judiciary’s Administrative Office of the Courts has been working closely with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and various vendors throughout the state to secure the tools and equipment necessary to safely reopen to Marylanders,” said State Court Administrator Pamela Harris. “The Judiciary’s ability to gradually resume court operations is, in part, a result of these efforts over the past several weeks and months.”
Though jury trials remain suspended, grand juries may reconvene at the discretion of administrative judges and new grand juries may be empaneled. All jury trials will resume with trial dates scheduled beginning Oct. 5. Any jury trial scheduled between Oct. 5 and Dec. 31 will remain on the schedule unless the court’s administrative judge orders otherwise.
The number of days that courts were closed to the public will not count against the statutory time remaining for the initiation of a court matter. Filing deadlines will be extended by an additional 15 days, depending on when a specific clerk’s office reopens.