Even when the coronavirus pandemic is over, courthouses across Maryland should continue carrying out a significant portion of their work virtually, according to recommendations released this week by a judicial task force.
The task force, created by Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Joseph Getty, evaluated changes that have been made within the state’s court system over the course of the pandemic.
The report was made with input from judges, attorneys, courthouse employees and members of the public, said Matthew Fader, the task force’s chair and the chief judge of Maryland’s Court of Special Appeals. “All of the recommendations are intended to improve the judiciary’s operations for the benefit of the people we serve,” Fader said.
When the pandemic hit, courthouses began using Zoom and other virtual programs to limit the number of people gathering in one place.
According to the task force, remote proceedings should continue indefinitely for most “procedural matters,” which may include “bail reviews, expungement hearings, juvenile detention hearings and motions hearings not involving the presentation of evidence.”
Remote proceedings should not be used for criminal and civil jury trials, because the credibility of evidence must be closely examined, according to the task force.
“The pandemic was a serious crisis that challenged us in ways we could not previously have anticipated,” said Getty. “In adapting to that crisis, personnel throughout the judiciary employed new technologies, developed new processes and found new ways to keep the doors of courthouses open-literally and virtually.”
One of the major advantages of using virtual technology, according to the task force, is the fact that people involved in court cases don’t have to travel.
“For many litigants, attending court proceedings in person can be challenging, especially when doing so involves a need to take time off of work, arrange for child care, travel significant distances or travel even moderate distances where public transportation is unavailable or very time consuming,” the task force said, adding that “Expert witness testimony, especially from experts who do not reside near the courthouse, can be provided at substantially less expense to the parties.”
While the task force issued its recommendations, judges ultimately make the determination as to whether their proceedings are held virtually.