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Legislators approve constitutional amendment to raise jury trial threshold

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and the proposed amendment’s chief Senate sponsor, says the threshold boost would enhance “judicial efficiency” by relieving circuit courts of holding jury trials for relatively small claims (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and the proposed amendment’s chief Senate sponsor, says the threshold boost would enhance “judicial efficiency” by relieving circuit courts of holding jury trials for relatively small claims (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

The Maryland General Assembly on Monday approved a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the amount in controversy that entitles litigants to a jury trial from more than $15,000 to more than $25,000.

If ratified by Maryland voters, the amendment would be the state’s first increase to the jury trial threshold since 2010, when Marylanders approved a boost from than $10,000 to more than $15,000. The Maryland electorate will vote on ratification in the fall of 2022.

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery and the proposed amendment’s chief Senate sponsor, said the threshold boost would enhance “judicial efficiency” by relieving circuit courts of holding jury trials for relatively small claims, thus enabling those cases to be more quickly and just as fairly resolved by a judge.

Earlier this session, Sen. Robert Cassilly said the proposed increase in the jury trial threshold would be unfair to noncorporate defendants for whom a judgment over $15,000 could be financially devastating.

These defendants of “modest means” would rather have “a jury of their peers” determine their liability – as occurs under the current threshold — rather than have their financial fate decided by a single judge, said Cassilly, R-Harford.

The Senate had initially passed a threshold increase to more than $30,000, but the House approved a boost to just more than $25,000. The Senate approved the House’s smaller figure with just hours to spare in the legislative session that ended at 12 a.m. Tuesday.

The proposed increase, Senate Bill 669, has divided attorneys for plaintiffs and civil defendants.

Members of the plaintiffs’ bar — many of whom are paid only if their clients win — have praised the proposal, saying it would reduce the time, expense and unpredictability of impaneling a jury and awaiting its verdict in the many cases that involve litigation of between $15,000 and $25,000. The defense bar has opposed an increase, saying it would limit clients’ right to a jury trial.

Del. J. Sandy Bartlett, D-Anne Arundel, was chief sponsor of the proposed amendment in the House.


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