Maryland’s top court on Thursday will resume holding oral arguments in its Annapolis courtroom for the first time since a special one-day session on June 4 was held as a sendoff for now retired Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.
Other than that day, the high court has not has not met for oral arguments – except by videoconference – since March 10, 2020, a nearly 21-month span, in an effort to stanch the spread of COVID-19.
Thursday will also mark the first in-court oral argument session presided over by Judge Joseph M. Getty, whom Gov. Larry Hogan elevated to chief when Barbera reached the state’s mandatory retirement age of 70 in September.
Getty said Wednesday that he and his six fellow high-court judges welcome the return to the courtroom.
“A fully Zoomed argument has worked well, but there are many advantages to being in person,” Getty said.
“Our judges feel they get a more robust interaction when the attorneys are in the courtroom,” Getty added. “It’s like watching the Baltimore Ravens play in person rather than on television. The Court of Appeals courtroom is our stadium.”
All Court of Appeals arguments are streamed live on its website.
The high court this month announced the resumption of in-court oral arguments in a public notice that included strict protocols governing its December session. No decision has yet been made regarding the high court’s January sitting.
The December protocols include excluding the general public, as courtroom attendance will be limited to the judges, court personnel and counsel for the parties. All those in attendance will have to wear masks.
People will be barred from attending the arguments if they have tested positive for COVID-19 within the prior 14 days or have symptoms of the virus, such as fever, sore throat or loss of taste or smell, the court’s notice stated.
Attorneys presenting arguments will have to complete a health screening questionnaire and submit proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their court appearance.
The attorneys will be admitted into the courtroom five minutes before their case is to be heard and must exit right after their hearing. Court staff will sanitize common touch points, including counsel table, during the breaks between arguments.
Attorneys will have the option to appear remotely rather than in person by emailing a request at least 10 days before their argument date to the court’s clerk, Suzanne C. Johnson. The attorneys need not give a reason for their request, the court’s notice stated.