The uncertainty and disruption from the COVID-19 outbreak has also understandably affected the Maryland court system. Clearly, with the social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders issued at both the state and federal level, lawyers, judges and administrative officials alike have been trying to determine the best and most effective way to serve our clients and the community while ensuring the safety of our employees, clients and families.
Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, the Chief Judge of Maryland’s Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court) has issued a series of orders over the last few weeks providing guidance and direction to anyone operating within the court system during this period. Below are some of the important pints contained in Judge Barbera’s orders.
- Except for certain “emergency” matters, Maryland’s courts are closed until June 5, 2020. The original order closed courts until May 1st, but that has since been extended and it is entirely possible that it will be extended again.
- The administrative order designates certain matters as emergency matters that will be heard by courts even during this closure. Specifically those include:
- reviews/bench warrants
- arraignments for detained defendants
- juvenile detention hearings and juvenile shelter care hearings
- peace order petitions (juvenile respondents)
- emergency evaluation petitions
- quarantine and isolation petitions
- extradition cases
- body attachments
- extreme risk protective order appeals
- The purpose of permitting the courts to hear emergency matters is to ensure not only that peoples’ constitutional rights are protected, but also to protect the safety and well-being of those in harms way in exigent situations.
- As is clear from the above, personal injury trials/hearings/conferences etc. are not deemed essential and any court date in those cases scheduled between March 16 (the date Judge Barbera’s original order went into effect) and June 5 is postponed and will need to be re-scheduled. There are some limited exceptions for hearings and conferences which some counties are conducting by telephone or zoom conference, but those are being done on a case by case basis. Dubo Law has been and will continue to keep its clients informed of any and all developments and postponements related to their cases.
- Judge Barbera also issued an order stating that all statutory and rules deadlines related to the initiation of matters required to be filed in a Maryland state court, including statutes of limitation, shall be tolled or suspended, as applicable, effective March 16, 2020, by the number of days that the courts are closed to the public due to the COVID-19 emergency. In layman’s terms, this means that all deadlines related to the filing of cases in Court are “paused” while the Courts are closed. When the courts are reopened, the Order reopening them will specify how long those deadlines are extended. So, for example, if you have a case where the statute of limitations deadline is April 30, 2020, that deadline was paused as of March 16, 2020. If the Courts reopen on June 16, 2020 (2 months after they were closed), then the Judge’s Order would extend all SOL deadlines by 60 days and that means that your case with the original April 30, 2020 deadline would now have a statute of limitations deadline of June 29, 2020 – 60 days after the original deadline.
- As previously mentioned, all trials (including jury trials) scheduled during the period when the courts are closed are suspended and will need to be re-scheduled. However, Judge Barbera additionally ordered that any currently scheduled trial date that is at least six weeks after the date that concludes the COVID-19 emergency period will be maintained, absent further order of the court in which the trial is scheduled. The way I interpret this provision is that any trial scheduled WITHIN 6 weeks of when the Courts are reopened is postponed and will need to be rescheduled. If it is more than 6 weeks out, then it will remain as scheduled. However, I anticipate
- Separate and apart from the question of what happens to scheduled court dates, there is also the question of whether attorneys and parties can initiate new lawsuits and make other filings with the Court. In short, for the most part, the answer is yes. Other than three counties, any and all filings in Maryland (including new lawsuits) are done electronically and MDEC (the electronic case filing system) continues to be fully operational with no limitations.
- As noted, there are three counties which do not accept electronic filings: Baltimore City, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County. With regard to those counties, they have all adopted separate policies for the initiation of new lawsuits and the filing of other pleadings, motions etc. Pursuant to an order from its administrative Judge, Prince George’s County continues to accept filings by mail as per usual. In Baltimore City and Montgomery County, they also continue to accept filings by mail, but their administrative Judges have issued orders requesting that lawyer and parties only submit emergency filings during this time. In addition to accepting filings by mail, all three of these locations have physical dropboxes outside the clerk’s office to permit hand-filings without exposing their employees to direct in-person contact with members of the public. All other counties, including Baltimore County, continue to accept electronic filings.
- In addition to statutes of limitations deadlines (addressed above), there are other case-related deadlines as well. Specifically, for example, if you have a claim against a governmental entity, you are required to by law to provide notice within one (1) year of the date of the incident. These tort claims act deadlines were not addressed by Judge Barbera in her orders (she likely lacks the authority to do so) and the Maryland legislature has not offered any guidance or instruction. So as of right now, we are operating on the assumption that these deadlines are still in effect and are operating accordingly.
Needless to say, these strange and unsettling times are trying on all of us as we attempt to navigate our “new normal.” All of our clients are being kept up to date on the status of their cases, including any postponements and rescheduled trial dates.
However, if you are not a client of Dubo Law and have a pending case, you can always check Maryland Case Search to find out the current status and determine whether your trial has been re-scheduled and what the new date is. A word of warning however – the MD Case Search website is not being updated as regularly as would normally be the case, so it is not clear how up to date the information is.
As you can see from all the above, Dubo Law has made a point of ensuring that we are fully informed of any and all developments in the legal community. We would not be able to fulfill our obligation as a personal injury lawyer to our current and future clients if we did not remain abreast of all of these developments. It is just another part of the first class service we provide.
So if you are already one of our clients, you should take comfort in knowing that is being handled in the same professional manner it was prior to this pandemic. And if you were injured in a car accident, slip and fall, dog bite or believe you may have been the victim of malpractice or any other personal injury claim, you may be looking for the right lawyer to represent you.
Call us at (443) 275-6345 and let us fight for you to ensure that you receive the justice and compensation you deserve. With everything else we are dealing with, you can rest easier knowing that your personal injury case is in great hands.