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Md. courts to suspend non-essential activities, postpone jury trials

Maryland courts will suspend all non-essential judicial activities effective immediately and suspend all jury trials beginning Monday in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued an order Thursday evening suspending out-of-state and out-of-country travel, requiring the minimization of in-state travel, and suspending professional development, committee meetings and gatherings for the Maryland Judiciary.

Barbera issued a second order suspending jury trials statewide between March 16 and April 3.

“Please know that judicial branch leadership at all levels of the courts are monitoring this situation closely and are committed to open access to the courts and service to the public,” Barbera wrote in an announcement. “We will continue to update the Judiciary’s website as new developments arise.”

Circuit courts, the District Court of Maryland, and the Administrative Office of the Courts have continuity of operation plans and some courts have started to implement elements of those plans, according to Barbera’s announcement.

Meanwhile, Prince George’s County Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams issued an administrative order Thursday closing the circuit court to the public until April 6. Employees are to report as usual, and the 24-hour drop box for pleadings will be available to accept and date stamp pleadings. Court staff will be available to take phone calls from the public, and bond hearings will still be heard daily, according to the order.

Both of Barbera’s orders state that “to the extent possible, the courts and judicial officers and units shall remain operational and provide scheduled and required events” while balancing the safety of court staff and citizens.

Barbera’s order on non-essential judicial business permits the use of technology, consistent with a previous administrative order, to “mitigate the impact of an emergency situation upon the Judiciary and its ability to provide access to justice.”

The order also authorizes temporary alternative work arrangements and “exposure mitigation” measures, including prohibiting entry into any judicial branch facility to anyone who has been diagnosed with or knowingly exposed to COVID-19 or advised by a doctor to self-quarantine.

On Friday, the state Judiciary’s rules committee will consider a proposal that would give Barbera additional sweeping emergency authority to have cases moved to other courthouses or, if necessary, to any suitable and available building in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. District Court in Maryland announced Wednesday that it would restrict entry to individuals with travel history or contacts that place them at risk of contracting the virus. Thursday, the federal courts also announced the postponement of jury trials starting Monday.

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