Members of the public will be able to file and review court papers in person at clerks offices around Maryland beginning Monday, as the state judiciary moves to the next phase of its gradual reopening of courts during the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to clerks offices being opened to the public at circuit and district courts statewide, district court judges will again take on the responsibility of presiding over certain emergency protection hearings such as domestic violence protective orders, peace orders and Emergency Risk Protective Orders, or Red Flag orders, the judiciary announced Friday.
During earlier stages of reopening, district court commissioners were handling all emergency protection hearings. Now, commissioners will go back to their normal schedule of hearing the emergency matters only after court hours — 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — and on weekends.
Judge John Morrissey, chief judge of the District Court of Maryland, lauded district court commissioners in a statement for taking on a greater role during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the clerks’ offices for district and circuit Court have been closed to the public with few exceptions. Now, the offices will be open but with restrictions to accommodate physical distancing and other guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health to limit the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the respiratory virus.
“We are moving forward with care,” said Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals in a statement. “Judiciary leadership will continue to monitor health trends and keep staff, the public, and legal community apprised of any changes to the Judiciary’s return to full function.”
As of Friday morning, more than 76,000 Marylanders had contracted the coronavirus, while at least 3,227 people had died from it, according to state health department data.
In addition to the changes in emergency protection hearings and clerks offices, courts across Maryland are slated to hear more matters in person, per the third phase of the judiciary’s reopening plan. Certain non-jury trials will be allowed to go forward in district and circuit courts.
At first, the judiciary ordered that most court functions be performed remotely, with attorneys calling into hearings. In the second phase of reopening, the judiciary gave the green light for certain types of hearings, like pleas, status conferences and more, to be held in person — though such hearings also could be done remotely.
The judiciary has targeted Aug. 31 for the next phase of reopening, which will provide for all non-jury trials and contested family, civil, criminal and juvenile matters to be heard in person, according to Barbera’s reopening order.
Jury trials won’t be allowed until the last phase of reopening, currently slated for Oct. 5.