As the Severna Park Voice responsibly heads to online publication for May, this is my second update to friends and neighbors on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Maryland courts, with a particular emphasis on the district and circuit courts for Anne Arundel County. As this article gets posted on April 22, we are well into our second month of social distancing, sheltering in place and wondering when it all might end.
The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is reporting 2,585,468 confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, with 179,694 deaths. The U.S. has the largest number of known cases with 826,184 as of April 22. Check it out for yourself at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. The data is updated daily at 8:00pm.
In Maryland, we have 14,775 cases, 631 deaths (and an increase of 47 in the past 24 hours) and 981 recovered (see statistics here). With 1,190 cases, Anne Arundel County trails only Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City. Our children are home from school through at least May 15, 2020. There is intense debate as to how best to protect people, how to vigorously combat a new infectious disease and how to repair the devastating economic damage caused by the pandemic.
Since March 16, all state courts have been restricted to emergency operations, through at least June 5. They remain largely closed to the public and lawyers. Most matters have been postponed and will be rescheduled. Essential personnel, which include administrative judges, court administrators and administrative heads, have been required to report to work. Administrative judges are determining what cases may be heard with “remote electronic participation” or “can be rescheduled after the emergency period has ended” or “can be resolved without a hearing.”
Lawyers and their clients are confronted by myriad deadlines. Most lawsuits must be filed within three years of the event. The Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera, chief judge of the Court of Appeals for Maryland, issued and emergency order on April 8 to temporarily suspend the statutes of limitations, the date by which certain actions must be filed, and other court deadlines. Chief Judge Barbera has asked that trial judges identify at-risk individuals for early release from incarceration. Juveniles are not to be sent to detention facilities, except for extreme cases, where they pose a threat.
I have had the pleasure to co-moderate with my friend and colleague, Harry Siegel, Esquire, two Zoom teleseminars, viewed by 1,000 or so attorneys. Judge Donna McCabe Schaeffer and Magistrate Timothy Thurtle explained how the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court is attempting to process family law cases as efficiently as possible during the pandemic. Certain court conferences are proceeding remotely. Emergency requests are still being handled, and the court defines an emergency as those that present “an imminent risk of substantial and immediate harm or harassment to a party or minor child.” Contested hearings and trials are being set for June, presuming that courts may be able to reopen then.
At the Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC, we are seeing few clients in person. We’re spending a lot of time on the phone and we’re attempting to master some new technology. We are still able to come to the office because we are fortunate to be among the essential businesses “that support the judicial system.” Certain members of our staff are teleworking as they are able.
I still haven’t been in court since March 12. Fortunately for the day-to-day practice of the law, most of the state’s courts allow for the electronic filing of court documents. The only courts that aren’t on MDEC (the Maryland Electronic Courts) are those in Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County. Anne Arundel was the first court to go fully online in the fall of 2014, so we’re accustomed to electronic filings.
I have an uptick in calls from clients seeking estate planning advice. We are capable of arranging for socially responsible and distant execution of estate documents. There’s no time like the present to create a will and gain control over how your children will be protected and your estate will be distributed upon your death.
If you or a loved one have questions about the legal ramifications posed by the COVID-19 health crisis, you should consult with an attorney you can trust and who will assist you in making informed decisions. David Diggs is your neighbor and legal counsel. If you need further information regarding this subject, please contact The Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC, located at 8684 Veterans Highway, Suite 204, in Millersville. Call 410-244-1171 or email David@DiggsLaw.com.