COVID-19 AND PENDING COURT CASES
MAY 21, 2020 UPDATE: On April 14, 2020, Chief Judge Barbera of the Maryland Court of Appeals signed a new administrative order, which extended two prior closure orders of the courts. Courts are now closed for most proceedings from March 17, 2020 through and including June 5, 2020. All court cases scheduled during this time period are being automatically postponed.
When courts reopen on Monday, June 8, 2020, for a period of at least six weeks and potentially more, there will be no jury trials. The first civil or criminal jury trials may be on July 20, 2020 or possibly as late as October 5, 2020. All protective orders and peace orders that were issued by a district court commissioner during the crisis will be scheduled for a review by a judge beginning on June 9, 2020, the second day that the courts are scheduled to reopen. We anticipate that the courts will hear nothing but domestic cases in the first days that the courts are open.
Although Governor Hogan has ordered closed, from time to time, various businesses, our law firm has remained open under both the strength of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and guidance from the Governor’s Office of Legal Counsel acknowledging that lawyers are essential to support the court systems. Although we have remained open, we have taken sensible steps to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and are encouraging video meetings where possible.
To continue supporting our clients, especially during this coronavirus crisis, Anthenelli, Phoebus & Hickman, LLC will continue to operate from both our Salisbury and Crisfield, Maryland locations. However, we are offering all of our clients the opportunity to meet with us using secure Zoom videoconferencing or to schedule telephone appointments if they would prefer not to come into our offices.
We would ask anyone who is sick, has been exposed to people who are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus or who have been in close, prolonged contact with persons who have symptoms of the coronavirus not to meet in-person or to come into our offices. These symptoms are: fever or chills, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or any other flu-like symptoms.
Status of courts and state agencies during the coronavirus crisis
The following sites contain the most up to date information regarding the status of the courts and various state agencies during the COVID-19 emergency:
Maryland Judiciary: https://mdcourts.gov/coronavirusupdate
Governor Hogan’s Executive Orders: https://governor.maryland.gov/covid-19-pandemic-orders-and-guidance/
Office of Administrative Hearings: http://oah.maryland.gov/
Maryland MVA: http://www.mva.maryland.gov/covid-19.htm
What court proceedings have been canceled
If you had a scheduled trial (bench or jury), motions hearing, pre-trial conference, or sentencing hearing in a criminal case between March 17, 2020, and June 5, 2020, in either the circuit court or district court, those proceedings were postponed. If you have a merits hearing or modification hearing in a family law case during this time period, those proceedings were postponed. If you have an in-court settlement conference, motions hearing, or civil jury trial in a personal injury case during this time period, those proceedings were postponed.
Recent administrative orders have envisioned the courts beginning to address scheduling orders in civil and family law matters on a case-by-case basis. The order also permits the resolution of matters that can be considered by the court without testimony or argument. As a practical matter that has not yet occurred and very few court proceedings have resumed.
Chief Judge Barbera of the Court of Appeals has entered a court order, dramatically limiting what cases will be held by trial courts in Maryland during the COVID-19 emergency. From March 17, 2020, through and including June 5, 2020, all criminal and civil trials are postponed. No civil or criminal jury trials will be held until at least July 20, 2020 and possibly October 5, 2020. Most hearings are also postponed. The most up to date information on Maryland circuit and district courts can be found online at: https://www.courts.state.md.us/coronavirusupdate
What court proceedings are still occurring
Under the terms of the April 14, 2020 court order, the following proceedings are still occurring in the circuit courts:
(A) bail reviews/bench warrants
(B) arraignments for detained defendants
(C) juvenile detention hearings
(D) juvenile shelter care hearings
(E) peace order petitions (juvenile respondents)
(F) emergency evaluation petitions
(G) quarantine and isolation petitions
(H) extradition cases
(I) body attachments
(J) extreme risk protective order appeals
These proceedings are closed to the public. Most counties on the lower shore are admitting attorneys to the court proceedings, while incarcerated defendants are appearing by video conference. Recent changes to the rules have loosened the restrictions on hearings occurring remotely and we have participated in telephone hearings at some of our local courts. Recent administrative orders have envisioned the resumption of additional hearings that can be conducted without testimony or non-party witnesses, but we have seen little progress by the courts in implementing video conferencing technology to conduct any proceedings other than those very few types of hearings that have been held to date.
In personal injury and family law matters, out-of-court settlement conferences are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Some settlement conferences have been converted to video conferences. We are equipped at both of our office locations to host video conferences.
The administrative judges of the local courts have been given the authority to conduct the following types of hearings, which the courts are considering on a case-by-case basis and often by remote, video conferencing or teleconferencing:
- certain CINA matters
- emergency delinquency hearings
- emergency Habeas Corpus petitions
- emergency issues in guardianship matters
- domestic violence protective orders
- appeals from peace orders
- family law emergencies, including time urgent matters related to special juvenile immigrant status
- temporary restraining orders
- criminal competency matters
- extreme risk protective orders
- domestic violence protective orders
- peace orders
- contempt hearings related to peace or protective orders
- matters involving locally incarcerated defendants.
Rescheduling of postponed cases
The Circuit Court for Wicomico County is not setting new dates for postponed cases until such time as it is clear that the courts will be reopened. Both the Circuit Court for Somerset County and the Circuit Court for Worcester County are resetting matters.
In District Court, all matters set between March 17, 2020, and June 5, 2020, are being automatically postponed.
Courts closed to the public, but still operational
All circuit and district courts are closed to the public, but continue to be staffed on a limited personnel basis by the judiciary and the clerks. Although every county on the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland has switched to electronic, online filing through MDEC, the clerk’s offices now have drop boxes at their main entrances to accept paper filings for persons who are authorized to file in person. The general public and even family members are not being allowed into the courthouse for those proceedings that are occurring.
Motor Vehicle Administration Hearings
All Motor Vehicle Administration hearings, such as hearings concerning a failed or refused breath test in a DUI case have been postponed through June 5, 2020. Additionally, the branch offices of the MVA have been closed indefinitely, which affects an accused DUI driver’s ability to opt in to the ignition interlock program. If you have been charged with a DUI, we encourage you to contact us immediately for a free, no obligation telephone consultation during which we will advise you on how best to protect your ability to drive during this crisis.
ANTHENELLI, PHOEBUS & HICKMAN, LLC’s present operations
Our firm is presently open for regular business hours at both our Crisfield and Salisbury, Maryland locations. We are offering telephone and secure video conferencing consultations to our clients who do not wish to meet in person. If you have an appointment and would like to convert it to a telephone conference or a secure video conference, please contact us, and we will provide you with the information necessary to set up the appointment.
Our attorneys are making both in-person and virtual court appearances in support of our clients. We are advocating on behalf of our clients who are incarcerated pending trial in efforts to obtain emergency releases of clients pending their trials or sentencing until this crisis passes.
If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms or have been in close, prolonged contact with any person who has experienced these symptoms: fever or chills, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or any other flu-like symptoms, please do not visit our offices. We are offering telephone and secure videoconferencing to our clients and prospective clients in lieu of an in-person meeting.
ANTHENELLI, PHOEBUS & HICKMAN, LLC’s future plans
We will not close our offices and will remain fully functional to meet all of our clients’ needs during and after the pandemic.