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Maryland won’t see full jury trials until at least October, judiciary reports

The Maryland Judiciary on Thursday described a multi-phased plan to fully reopen courthouses, briefing lawmakers on a series of small steps that won’t see full jury trials being held until at least October.

Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued multiple orders last week that provide guidance to both district and circuit courts across the state, which have been operating at a limited capacity since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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What’s called Phase 2 begins June 5, when bail reviews, arraignments and extradition cases will resume in circuit courts, while juvenile detention hearings and arraignments will resume in the juvenile court system. The proceedings will be open only to members of the public with a connection to the hearings, the order said.

“All of the orders have been vetted internally to be certain that they have reflected the on-the-ground capacity and needs of the trial and appellate courts," Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said at the hearing. "Those orders have allowed the courts to perform essential functions while adhering to the mandates of due process and the rule of law.”

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The hearing follows a statement the chief judge released last week outlining the plans and the difficulties of getting things back to normal.

“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," she said.

Phase 3 would start July 20 and allow motions hearings, engagements and nonjury trials in the circuit courts.

That’s when clerks’ offices in both district and circuit courts will fully open to the public. But employees and visitors will be asked a series of “COVID-19 screening questions, be subject to temperature checks, wear a facial covering or mask, and practice social distancing," according to a news release.

Those who might be denied access will “be given information on the option to conduct the hearing remotely, in locations where this service is available, or how to have it rescheduled,” the release said.

The same month, on July 25, residential foreclosures and evictions will be permitted to resume.

The last restriction expected to be lifted will be holding jury trials in circuit court, which would begin Oct. 5. Juries have up to 12 members in serious cases, and typically deliberate in a closed room with no outside intervention.

Grand juries, panels tasked with determining whether criminal charges should be issued, resumed this week “at the discretion of an administrative judge,” according to the news release.

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