Maryland lawyers should be given priority for receiving COVID-19 vaccinations as courthouses are set to reopen next month and jury trials are scheduled to resume in April, the state’s bar association writes in a letter being circulated among local attorney groups seeking the profession’s prioritization to ensure the safe resumption of court operations.
Currently, only judges, prosecutors and public defenders have been given priority for the vaccine because of their required presence in the courtroom in cases where the defendants’ liberty is at stake.
The Maryland State Bar Association writes in the proposed letter to Maryland’s governor, health chief and top judge that the vaccination priority should be extended to all lawyers while enabling those who do not appear in court, go to prisons or see clients at high-risk from COVID-19 to forgo the prioritized vaccination.
Specifically, MSBA wants attorneys to be assigned to vaccination priority phase 1C, for whom vaccinations are currently being administered and includes individuals age 65 to 74 and essential workers in lab services, agriculture, manufacturing and the postal service. Higher priority has already been given first responders, health care workers, frontline judiciary staff, high-ranking government officials and individuals age 75 and older.
“While our members are not frontline healthcare workers or first responders, their role in society is extremely important,” the proposed letter states. “It is imperative that our members be able to return to court, visit incarcerated clients as well as elderly and infirm clients as soon as possible without risking their own lives or the lives of others. We recognize that not all attorneys will accept the invitation to participate in phase 1C, however, those that go in and out of jails, meet with elderly clients, and are in and out of our courts most likely will.”
The letter-writing effort was spurred by private attorneys concerned that their impending return to the courtroom amid the pandemic poses a danger not only to themselves but to litigants, jurors and court staff whom they might unknowingly infect, MSBA President Mark F. Scurti said Thursday.
“The anxiety from our membership has just gone through the roof,” added Scurti, a Maryland District Court judge in Baltimore who was vaccinated this year.
“We are fighting for them” through this vaccination effort, Scurti said. “We can help protect those that protect the justice system and the rights of Marylanders.”
The proposed letter is part of a broader MSBA campaign in support of having the Maryland Health Department move attorneys higher on the vaccination priority list. The effort includes soliciting the help of Maryland General Assembly members who are lawyers, Scurti said.
The department issued a statement Thursday that “attorneys will be vaccinated according to where they fit into the priority groups as individuals.”
“Please understand that as this time, supply is very limited, the federal government is giving Maryland approximately 12,000 doses per day for the 2 million people who are eligible,” the department stated. “We ask for your patience as the available supply of the vaccine in Maryland works to catch up to the demand. We expect that the judiciary will be happy to accommodate any attorneys who wish to participate virtually.”
The letter’s circulation comes just days after Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Mary Ellen Barbera ordered courts to reopen to the public March 15 and reiterated that jury trials would restart April 26. The letter also comes amid criticism that Gov. Larry Hogan and acting Health Secretary Dennis R. Schrader are not distributing the vaccine fast enough, to which they respond that the federal government has been slow in providing doses to the state.
“We understand the many difficulties presented by this global pandemic and now the unprecedented effort to vaccinate every Marylander against the COVID-19 virus,” the MSBA letter states.
“We implore you to consider our (prioritization) request, both to reassure our members as well as the citizens of Maryland as a whole,” the letter adds. “Justice must not be delayed or denied to any Marylander. The smooth and efficient functioning of our courts is essential to this.”