Carroll County Circuit Court Administrative Judge Fred Hecker held a virtual town hall meeting on May 13, 2020, to discuss the current operating status of the circuit court and the status of plans for reopening.
Remote Hearings Currently, the court is hearing bail review, juvenile detentions, and CINA hearings, as well as some civil, non-evidentiary hearings. The court is hearing uncontested divorces and adoptions upon request. There is always an officer of the court available to take settlements on the record. There are no Maryland rules in place that address remote evidence, an issue that is being addressed by the court technology committee trying to develop protocols.
Scheduling/Jury Trials As of the date of the town hall, courts are still scheduled to reopen June 8. There will be no jury trials for at least six weeks from the date of reopen, and criminal cases will likely take priority due to constitutional concerns. Judge Hecker noted that some non-jury civil trials scheduled for after June 8 may need to be rescheduled, but there is no current plan to postpone all civil cases at this point.
Pre-Trial Conferences The circuit court is planning to have in-person pretrial conferences and will limit the number of those set at same time to reduce crowds. The court is open to doing remote pretrial conferences, but this can be difficult unless lawyers and settlement officers have computer capability to host virtual conferences that allow for confidential attorney/client discussions.
Facilities In general, the courthouse is a ghost town, with very few people coming in. Judges and magistrates are on a rotating schedule to hear bail reviews, juvenile detentions, and CINA hearings, although the hearings are taking place virtually. Judge Hecker is preparing a reopening plan that will be released sometime after Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera issues a new order on reopening Maryland courts. The plan addresses the safeguards the court will put in place to protect court employees and members of the public, including the installation of physical barriers, the implementation of social distancing, and requirements such as hand sanitizer and masks. The clerk’s office will not be fully staffed when court reopens, and some employees will continue to work remotely, with a goal of bringing people into the courthouse only if absolutely necessary. To that end, Judge Hecker indicated that remote hearings will likely continue for a while even after courts reopen, unless a remote hearing is not feasible.