ANNAPOLIS — All courthouses in Maryland — including the Cecil County Circuit and District Courthouses in Elkton — will remain closed to the public through May 1, increasing the initial closure by one month, according to a new order issued Wednesday by Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera.
The new directive replaces a March 16 order that closed all courts in Maryland to the public through April 3, reduced staffing in courthouses, and authorized essential court staff to process only emergency court matters. The old order gave court officials in jurisdictions throughout the state discretion regarding which matters would be heard.
Under the new judicial order, however, all “non-emergency matters” that had scheduled for court hearings or proceedings — including jury trials — between March 17 through May 1 have been postponed. As for scheduling orders issued in civil and family law cases, they will be addressed “by motion on a case-by-case basis,” according to the new directive.
All courthouses in Maryland will be closed to the public, with “limited exceptions,” through May 1, according to the order.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the Maryland Judiciary to take further action to protect court visitors and Judiciary personnel,” Barbera explained in Wednesday’s written statement.
“The courts remain committed in this challenging time to ensuring the public’s justice needs are met to the extent possible during this public health emergency.”
Falling under the category of “emergency matters,” courts in Cecil County are still conducting bail review hearings via closed-circuit television, with the charged detainee televised from a bail review room in the Cecil County Detention Center and the presiding judge seeing the person in custody on a TV monitor inside the courtroom. With a few exceptions, courts in Cecil County have been handling bail review hearings in that fashion for years.
Other emergency matters include — but are not limited to — domestic violence petitions, peace order petitions, family law emergencies, extreme risk protective orders, juvenile detention hearings, and search warrants, according to the new directive.
In addition, under the new directive, foreclosures of residential property, foreclosures of the right to redeem residential property sold in a tax sale, residential evictions, and executions on residential real property under levy or lien are stayed. Meanwhile, new or pending types of these actions will be accepted — but not processed during this time.
Barbera explains in her new directive that there would be “a strong likelihood of creating undue hardship” by carrying out foreclosures, evictions and such at this time.
In Cecil County, based on several recent court dockets, there has been a dramatic and unprecedented decrease in courtroom activity, due to the postponement of most criminal and civil cases.
Meanwhile, lawyers in Cecil County are continuing to remotely file motions and pleadings electronically, according to court officials.
Having been strategically broken down into teams, about a third of the employees assigned to the various courthouse departments are working inside the courthouses each day, while the balance of the staffs are working remotely from their homes — to decrease the risk of possible COVID-19 and also to create backup teams, should an employee or employees working in the courthouses now contract the virus.