May 22, 2020
187 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Maryland courts announce plan to gradually reopen through phased approach
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Maryland court system has released its reopening plan that outlines how courts across the state will gradually return to full operations throughout the next several weeks and months.
Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issued the Administrative Order on the Progressive Resumption of Full Function of Judiciary Operations today, May 22. The administrative order provides direction to the courts across the state as the judicial branch continues to monitor the COVID-19 public health emergency.
“The details in the reopening plan were carefully and deliberately crafted by workgroups composed of Judiciary leadership, with the health and wellbeing of court visitors and employees as the driving force, in our work to increase access to the courts,” said Chief Judge Barbera. “We acknowledge the courts will not be able to immediately return to full operations. This phased return will guide the courts, as we continue to monitor health conditions in each of the twenty-four jurisdictions.”
Beginning June 5, at 5 p.m., the Maryland courts will resume functions through a phased approach. Currently in Phase I of a five phased plan, the Maryland Judiciary will move to Phase II on June 5. During Phase II, courts will continue to be closed to public except for those who are necessary to the matters being heard. Each phase will represent an increase in the level of activity within each courthouse and court office. Depending on the current state of COVID-19 throughout Maryland, it may be necessary for a jurisdiction to adjust phases.
Regardless of the phase, the administrative order encourages the courts to continue using technology for remote proceedings, either through video or telephonic purposes, as outlined in the Amended Administrative Order on Remote Proceedings Held During the COVID-19 Emergency issued May 1.
“Remote proceedings have been useful and effective in facilitating the courts’ ability to carry out core functions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Judge Laura Ripken, Administrative Judge for the Fifth Judicial Circuit and Chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges. “The courts will continue to use technology for remote proceedings so that we can expand the types of matters that can be heard before the court.”
As outlined in the administrative order, Phase 3, which is expected to begin July 20, will mark the milestone in which the clerks’ offices in both the District Court of Maryland and circuit courts will fully open to the public, if they are able to do so. At this time, a broader range of court matters will also be scheduled.
The courts will require any individual, including employees, seeking access to a courthouse or court office location, to answer a set of COVID-19 screening questions, be subject to temperature checks, wear a facial covering or mask, and practice social distancing. If an individual is denied access to a court building or court office, the individual will be given information on the option to conduct the hearing remotely, in locations where this service is available, or how to have it rescheduled.
“We have worked tirelessly to make sure the safeguards necessary to protect, as much as reasonably possible, the health of the public, Judiciary personnel, and justice partners were in place before we open to the public,” said District Court of Maryland Chief Judge John P. Morrissey. “Differences in docket sizes, courtroom and courthouse layouts, and the number of judicial employees will affect the phases for every jurisdiction and court.”
At the local level, administrative judges may limit the number of people entering the courthouse or a courtroom. To date, the Maryland Judiciary has made major strides in obtaining various types of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gloves, face guards, no-contact digital thermometers, hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes, Plexiglas sneeze guards, signage and six-foot separation markers ahead of the courts’ reopening dates.
“The Judiciary’s Administrative Office of the Courts has been working closely with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency and various vendors throughout the state to secure the tools and equipment necessary to safely reopen to Marylanders,” said State Court Administrator Pamela Harris. “The Judiciary’s ability to gradually resume court operations is, in part, a result of these efforts over the past several weeks and months.”
As the phases change and evolve, notices will be placed within a court facility and online at www.mdcourts.gov/coronavirusupdate. In-person and remote court services, such as self-help centers, will vary by court location. Members of the public are encouraged to check the Judiciary’s website for the latest information.
“Maryland court operations have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and will require professionalism, courtesy, and cooperation from the public and legal community, while the courts adjust practice and procedures to help maintain the health and safety of all court employees and visitors,” said Chief Judge Barbera.
The Judiciary also issued three other administrative orders regarding grand juries, the tolling or suspension of statutes of limitations and statutory and rules deadlines related to the initiation of matters and pending matters, as well as the suspension of foreclosures, evictions, and other ejectments for residences.
The Administrative Order Lifting the Statewide Suspension of Jury Trials and Resuming Grand Juries states, in part, that grand juries may resume at the discretion of an administrative judge and new grand juries may be empaneled, as necessary. Additionally, grand juries that are currently convened may be extended by the administrative judge. All jury trials, both civil and criminal, will resume and trial dates will be scheduled beginning October 5, 2020. Priority will be given to criminal trials and other urgent court matters, such as family law emergencies. Any jury trial previously scheduled between October 5, 2020, and December 31, 2020, will remain, unless otherwise ordered by the court’s administrative judge. Read the full order for more details.
The Revised Administrative Order on the Emergency Tolling or Suspension of Statutes of Limitations and Statutory and Rules Deadlines Related to the Initiation of Matters and Certain Statutory and Rules Deadline in Pending Matters states, in part, that the number of days that the courts were closed to the public does not count against the time remaining for the initiation of a court matter. Filing deadlines to initiate matters will be extended by an additional 15 days, depending on the date in which a specific clerk’s office opens. For example, if two days remained for the filing of a new matter on March 15, 2020, then two days would remain upon the reopening of the courts to the public on July 20, 2020. With the additional fifteen days, seventeen days would be left for a timely filing beginning July 20, 2020. Additionally, all statutes and rules deadlines related to pending court proceedings are tolled or suspended by the number of days that the courts are closed to the public. As such, the number of days the courts were closed to the public do not count against the time remaining to conduct judicial proceedings. Read the full order for more details.
The Administrative Order on Suspension during the COVID-19 Emergency of Foreclosures, Evictions, and Other Ejectments involving Residences states, in part, that the stay on residential foreclosures and evictions will be lifted effective July 25, 2020. Read the full order for more details.