The Maryland Judiciary, which suspended jury trials two weeks ago, is further restricting courtroom operations amid calls from the Office of the Public Defender to postpone more court appearances as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the country.
The state’s district and circuit courts will return to Phase II as of Monday, reducing the types of cases that will be heard remotely or in person, according to an order issued Tuesday night by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.
In district court, the cases that still will move forward include criminal, traffic, civil, domestic violence, peace orders, Extreme Risk Protective Orders and landlord-tenant cases. In the circuit courts, judges will continue to hear civil, criminal, family, Child in Need of Assistance and juvenile matters.
“The Maryland Judiciary continues to proactively monitor the current COVID-19 public health crisis in Maryland, therefore, the Judiciary must alter its court operations for the second time in two weeks in order to protect the health and wellbeing of all,” Barbera said in a statement.
Coronvairus-related hospitalizations are surging across Maryland, and the state on Tuesday reported 32 deaths tied to COVID-19 — the most on one day since mid-June, according to state health officials.
“COVID-19 cases in Maryland are increasing at a rapid pace and with the Thanksgiving Day holiday upon us, it is imperative that the Judiciary respond to the current health situation by restricting court operations further,” Barbera said.
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“As always, the Judiciary will keep the public apprised of any changes in operations and ensure that as many of the core functions of the Judiciary will remain available to the extent the emergency conditions allow.”
The move comes just a day after Public Defender Paul DeWolfe publicly called on Monday for the Judiciary to postpone district court hearings that do not involve an incarcerated defendant or an allegation of domestic violence. DeWolfe could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
The chief judge’s previous order limited felony proceedings in circuit courts but allowed misdemeanor criminal cases in district court, which don’t involve juries, to continue in person.
It’s the latest adjustment for the state court system, which shut down all courtrooms March 16 and operated in a very limited fashion until allowing jury trials to resume in October.
Anyone who enters a courthouse is required to wear a mask, submit to a health screening and adhere to social distancing guidelines. Anyone who is currently serving as a juror must contact the court, and courts will use technology to continue proceedings remotely where possible.
“Individuals who have business with the courts should check the Judiciary’s website, www.mdcourts.gov, or call the clerk’s office for information before arriving at a courthouse location,” the judiciary said in a statement.
Baltimore Sun reporter Christine Condon contributed to this article.