COVID-19 And The Maryland Courts, Part 5

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This is my fifth update to friends and neighbors regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact upon the administration of justice in Maryland, with a particular emphasis on our Anne Arundel County courts. As I write this article on September 25, we are regrettably into our sixth month of social distancing, sheltering in place and wondering when it all might end. Most of us are itching for a return to normality.

The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University is reporting 32.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, with 984,590 deaths. The United States has the largest number of known cases at more than 7 million cases and 206,417 deaths. That represents an increase of over 1 million cases and 22,000 deaths in the past month. So far, 3.8 million Americans have recovered from the virus. See the statistics at www.coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. The data is updated daily at 8:00pm.

In Maryland, we have had 122,774 cases, 3,917 deaths and 7,431 persons recovered. See www.coronavirus.maryland.gov. With 8,264 cases and 236 deaths, Anne Arundel County trails only Baltimore, Montgomery, Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City. Most of our children have started the school year with online learning at least for now. College towns where students have been welcomed back have seen spikes in their cases, although, for the young adults who contract the virus, symptoms are generally less severe, and many are symptom-free.

Cases that were postponed from mid-March through June are now being reset. A case that I had ready to go in September was reset for January and then postponed to May recently. The backlog of cases is ponderous.

Jury trials resumed October 5, with Phase V, the final phase in reopening the courthouses. Judges are getting creative, as they consider conducting jury selection via Zoom. There will be no more cramming of jurors into small rooms to deliberate, as they will likely commandeer an entire courtroom, sending the judge and litigants elsewhere to await a ruling.

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.

Over the summer, I have been to court on several 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 an opposing party, counsel and judges through them. Facial expressions tell us much about the speakers’ veracity. We have also conducted depositions, crucial discovery tools involving extensive questioning, via Zoom.

At the Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC, we are starting to see more clients in person, while masked and socially distanced. We’re also spending a lot of time on the phone and we have eagerly adapted to 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.

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 email david@diggslaw.com. The office is located at 8684 Veterans Highway, Suite 204, in Millersville.

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