The Maryland judiciary is planning a five-phased return after a shutdown for the coronavirus pandemic that will culminate on with the resumption of jury trials in early October.
The state’s court system, which is now in phase one of its five-part reopening plan, is scheduled to begin phase two at 5 p.m. on Friday, June 5.
At that point, courthouses will remain generally closed to the public except for urgent matters.
“We have worked tirelessly to make sure the safeguards necessary to protect … 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 in a statement.
“Differences in docket sizes, courtroom and courthouse layouts, and the number of judicial employees will affect the phases for every jurisdiction and court.”
Maryland’s judiciary said it hoped that by July 20, courthouses will be able to reopen to the public with a broader range of matters appearing on the schedule again.
That would constitute the judiciary’s plan third phase.
Courts will resume nonjury trials and contested hearings in criminal, civil, family, and juvenile matters when the fourth phase begins, presently scheduled for Aug. 31.
Full court operations, including jury trials, would resume on Oct. 5, when phase five is slated to begin.
As the phases change and evolve, notices will be posted within court facilities and online.
“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.”
When courthouses begin to reopen to the public again, visitors will be subject to many of the same screenings and other protective measures they would expect in other public venues.
That means temperature checks and symptom screenings, along with a requirement to wear masks and maintain social distancing inside the courthouse.
Some courthouses may have to adjust phases depending on the impact of the coronavirus in their locality.
Regardless of which phase is in effect, the courts are encouraging the use of more remote proceedings through video or telephone when appropriate.
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“Remote proceedings have been useful and effective in facilitating the courts’ ability to carry out core functions during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Anne Arundel County Judge Laura Ripken.
Ripken is the 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.”