This is my third 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 goes to print in late May, we are well into our third month of social distancing, sheltering in place and wondering when it all might end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, as Maryland tepidly reopens.
The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is reporting more than 5.1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, with 333,489 deaths. The U.S. has the largest number of known cases with more than 1.5 million and 94,729 deaths. Check out the data for yourself at coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. The data is updated daily at 8:00pm.
In Maryland, we have had 44,424 cases, 2,207 deaths (a 3.5-fold increase in the past month) and 3,2433 recovered. See coronavirus.maryland.gov. With 3,207 cases and 149 deaths, Anne Arundel County trails only Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City. Our children are home through the end of the school year on June 18, 2020. It’s anyone’s guess whether they’ll be going onto school grounds in September.
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.” Jury trials are suspended until at least July 20. How those 12 (for criminal cases) or six (for civil case) jurors will be properly distanced remains to be seen.
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, including Zoom conferences. 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, but I have had hearings, as courts transition to online forums. 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 accustom 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.