The U.S. District Court for Maryland will resume some in-person court proceedings March 1 and jury trials two weeks later, the court’s chief judge ordered Wednesday, citing significant improvement in combating the pandemic that has forced operations to be conducted remotely and halted jury trials.
James K. Bredar’s order followed his earlier directives that suspended operations through Feb. 26 at the courthouses in Baltimore and Greenbelt.
“In recent weeks, local virus conditions in the state of Maryland have significantly improved,” Bredar wrote in his five-page order.
“The statewide seven-day test positivity rate is now under 5%, and the seven-day test positivity rates for many of the local jurisdictions surrounding each courthouse are also below 5%,” he added. “Importantly, although some counties remain above the 5% target, all jurisdictions demonstrate a clear downward trend sustained over several weeks.”
The determination of whether a court proceeding will be conducted in-person instead of virtually will be made by the presiding judge on a case-by-case basis, Bredar wrote.
Members of the public will be permitted to attend the in-person court proceedings on a limited basis, he added.
“Rigorous measures designed to protect health and safety will remain, including mandatory mask usage, six-foot physical distancing requirements, liberal use of plexiglass barriers, use of ‘listen/talk’ electronic communication devices in the courtrooms, and limits on occupancy in certain areas, such as courtrooms, restrooms, and elevators,” Bredar ordered.
The chief judge stated that his express permission will be required for courthouse entry of anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the prior 14 days; has been in contact in the prior 14 days with anyone who has been diagnosed with the virus; has been asked to self-quarantine by a health care provider; has a temperature of at least 100 degrees; has or lives with someone who has COVID-19 like symptoms, including fever, chills, shortness of breath, loss of taste or smell, and vomiting; has returned from international travel within 14 days; or has been released from a federal, state or local prison within 14 days and is not reporting to the courthouse to receive a location monitoring device.
Bredar’s order followed Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott’s announcement Wednesday that, beginning next week, the maximum number of people allowed in gyms will increase from 10 individuals to 25% of capacity and that performance venues may reopen so long as performers are masked and distanced.
“In response to improving metrics, some local jurisdictions have begun to ease restrictions on the operation of local businesses and institutions,” Bredar wrote in explaining the eased restrictions in courthouse operations beginning March 1.
At the state court level, Maryland will resume in-person, nonjury trials and contested hearings in civil, family and juvenile matters on March 15, though judges are encouraged to conduct the proceed remotely to the extent possible under an order issued this week by the states’ top judge. Jury trials are set to resume April 26 under Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera’s order.