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Md. voters approve constitutional amendment to raise jury trial threshold

Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery, was the measure’s chief sponsor. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Maryland voters on Tuesday approved a constitutional amendment raising the amount in controversy that entitles litigants to a jury trial from more than $15,000 to more than $25,000.

The change marks the state’s first increase to the jury trial threshold since 2010, when Marylanders approved a boost from more than $10,000 to more than $15,000.

Voters approved the amendment by an unofficial margin of 62% to 38% as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The General Assembly passed the amendment last year for referendum.

The measure’s chief sponsor, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, said Wednesday that the threshold boost will enhance judicial efficiency by relieving circuit courts of holding jury trials for relatively small amounts.

Claims for $25,000 or less can be more quickly and just as fairly resolved by a judge, which is especially important for low-income plaintiffs who cannot afford the time and expense of jury trials, said Waldstreicher, vice chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee.

“In Maryland, the courthouse doors have to be open to everyone,” the Montgomery County Democrat added. “Victims in Maryland can receive compensation for their injuries much more easily now that this constitutional amendment has passed.”

Opponents of the amendment said raising 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, Sen. Robert Cassilly, R-Harford, said last year in opposition to the measure.

Cassilly is now Harford County executive-elect after his Election Day victory Tuesday.

The Senate in 2021 had initially passed a threshold increase to more than $30,000, but the House of Delegates approved a boost to just more than $25,000. The Senate approved the House’s smaller figure with just hours to spare in the 2021 legislative session.

The proposed increase had divided attorneys for plaintiffs and civil defendants.

Members of the plaintiffs’ bar — many of whom are paid only if their clients win — 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 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 amendment in the House.