This is my fourth update to friends and neighbors on how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Maryland courts, with a particular emphasis on our Anne Arundel County courts. As I write this on August 31, we are well into our fifth month of social distancing, sheltering in place and wondering when it all might end. Is that a light at the end of the tunnel or an on-rushing train, as Maryland tepidly reopens?
The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is reporting more than 24.8 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, with 838,704 deaths. The U.S. has the largest number of known cases at over 6 million cases and 184,353 deaths. So far, more than 3.1 million Americans have recovered from the virus. Check the data out for yourself at www.coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. The data is updated daily at 8:00pm.
In Maryland, we have had 107,294 cases, 3,746 deaths and 6,124 persons recovered. See www.coronavirus.maryland.gov. With 8,264 cases and 236 deaths, Anne Arundel County trails only Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, along with Baltimore City. Our children are getting ready to start a new school year with online learning, at least for now. It’s anyone’s guess whether they will go onto school grounds anytime soon.
From mid-March through June, all state courts were restricted to emergency operations and 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 October 5. How those 12 (for criminal cases) or six (for civil case) jurors will be properly distanced remains to be seen.
Since June, the courts have been slowly easing restrictions. As of August 31, Phase IV of the Maryland Judiciary’s reopening plan took effect, and all matters are being heard except for jury trials. Parties, witnesses and attorneys seeking admission to our courthouses are subject to temperature checks and health screening. Masks must be worn at all times.
In the past six week or so, I have been to court on some emergency matters. It is a challenge to question witnesses through a mask, and I’ve actually had to catch my breath at times. It’s also difficult to read to an opposing party, counsel and judges through them. Facial expressions tell us much about the speakers’ veracity.
At the Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC, we are still seeing few clients in person. We’re spending a lot of time on the phone and we have eagerly adapted to some new technology, including Zoom conferences. We have even conducted depositions via Zoom. 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.
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, contact The Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC at 410-244-1171 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The law office is located at 8684 Veterans Highway, Suite 204, in Millersville.