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Federal courts in Md. to delay jury trials, restrict entry

U.S. District Chief Judge James K. Bredar

U.S. District Chief Judge James K. Bredar

Federal courts in Maryland will postpone jury trials beginning Monday and are restricting entry to individuals with travel history or contacts that place them at risk of contracting coronavirus.

U.S. District Chief Judge James K. Bredar said Thursday afternoon that he expects to issue a standing order delaying all jury trials, civil and criminal, until April 24.

“We are following the advice of the public health experts who are advising that all organs of government do what they can to avoid having large gatherings of people,” Bredar said. “We’re otherwise looking at how we can and should slim down our court operations to do what we can to be in line with the advice of public health officials.”

The number of jurors called varies at the federal level but Bredar said the three-month average for number of citizens summonsed is between 150 and 250. Maryland has U.S. District Court locations in Baltimore, Greenbelt and Salisbury. Grand juries are not affected.

Bredar said the order makes a finding under the Speedy Trial Act that the public health emergency necessitates delaying criminal jury trials.

Bredar previously issued a standing order Wednesday evening barring entry into any federal courthouses in the state to those who have traveled to countries or regions particularly impacted by the virus in the last 14 days; those who reside or have had close contact with anyone who has traveled to those locations; or anyone who has been diagnosed with or had contact with someone diagnosed with the virus.

The locations are China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran, Egypt, Washington state and New Rochelle, New York.

Thursday, Bredar said people have been cooperative, understanding and compliant with the restrictions.

Signs detailing the categories of people prohibited from entering the courthouse are being displayed and the order also provides phone numbers and points of contact for people who are affected. Attorneys are instructed to contact the chambers for the judge before whom they are scheduled to appear.

A planning committee is meeting twice daily to discuss response to COVID-19, according to Bredar.

The chief judge of a district has decision-making authority, but Bredar said federal judges in Maryland operate by consensus and came to this decision together.

Maryland joins other federal courts around the country changing or suspending operations as a result of the virus. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington suspended all civil and criminal matters requiring in-court appearances and other courts have restricted entry, according to the ABA Journal.

Bredar stressed that contingency plans are being made, up to and including accommodating the need to reduce judicial activity at the courthouses, but the court remains ready to adjudicate important matters involving “life and limb” and liberty.

“We are proceeding carefully and we believe prudently, taking those steps that we believe necessary and no more than that,” he said.

Maryland state courts were operating normally as of Thursday afternoon.

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