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The Judiciary continues to collaborate with MSBA by responding to questions with administrative actions, changes, clarifications and further information. 

On April 7, MSBA provided the Judiciary with a Fifth Question Set (39 questions). These were based on new questions upon a review of the April 3 Administrative Orders, and incorporated several questions from MSBA’s Fourth Questions Set for a response from the Judiciary. The most frequent concerns from our members and partners related to deadlines, custody and access issues, remote proceedings, filing guidance, estates and trusts issues, and communications to self-represented litigants. Between MSBA’s submission of these questions and the Judiciary’s responses on April 11, the Judiciary issued two Amended Administrative Orders on April 8 that are referenced herein.  

General Inquiries

1. Can the Judiciary share information about whether it is considering extending court closures beyond May 4, perhaps to include the rest of May, June, and/or July?

Judiciary Response: No decision has been made at this time.  As soon as such a decision is made, a new Administrative Order will be issued, and you will be notified.  (2020.04.10)

2. How has the Judiciary been working with other branches of government to coordinate emergency planning and strategies, including strategies for reopening or coordinating a gradual return to normal operations?

Judiciary Response: The Judiciary has been coordinating on both state and local levels with justice partners including the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, State Attorneys’ offices, Sheriff’s Offices, the Office of the Public Defender, and local detention centers.  When a re-opening appears likely, additional Administrative Orders will be issued. (2020.04.10)

3. As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, is there any specific information, issue or concern that the Judiciary would ask the MSBA to communicate back to its members, or for A2JC to communicate to self-represented litigants?

Judiciary Response: The call-in and chat communication tools of the Self-Help Center continue to operate.  Self-represented individuals may continue to use this service. Information on how to contact the Self-Help Center can be found here: https://mdcourts.gov/selfhelp. (2020.04.10)

Estates and Trusts

Many members active in Estates and Trusts work have asked the MSBA to communicate the following concerns relating to the freeze on estate administration.

4. Has the Judiciary considered designating the opening of estates as an “emergency” action, particularly if the COVID emergency extends beyond the next few weeks? Practitioners report that some local jurisdictions are not opening any new estates, leaving a decedent’s assets in limbo since no one can be appointed to act in the decedent’s stead with regard to the preservation of assets or to satisfy obligations.

Judiciary Response: Every Register of Wills’ office remains open and is accepting all filings. They are now accepting all routine filings by email and fax.  They are also opening new estates, but, when the decedent died testate, they are requiring the filing of the original Will by physical mail or drop box. If there is an emergency, practitioners should contact the individual Register of Wills’ office directly.  (2020.04.10)

5. Does the April 3 Administrative Order on tolling statutory deadlines also toll the time period for creditors to file pre-death claims against an estate, which would delay final reports and accounting so that estates could not be closed? Would Final Reports Under Modified Administration still need to be timely filed, even though the time for claims might still be tolled and therefore not yet expired?

Judiciary Response: The April 8 Amended Administrative Order Expanding Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations Due to the COVID-19 Emergency (the April 8 Restricted Operations Order) has no effect on the deadline for the filing of creditor’s claims. (2020.04.10)

Custody Orders and Parenting Time

On March 27, the Judiciary released a Statement on Matters Concerning Children and Families, indicating that all custody and parenting time orders are still in effect, and can be jointly adjusted if permitted by court order. Section (II)(b)(vi) of the Governor’s March 30 Executive Order permits “travel required by court order” as an essential activity. MSBA has received the following inquiries from its family law attorneys:

6. Can the Judiciary provide further guidance about how litigants and attorneys can continue to exercise custody and parenting time orders given the March 30 stay-at-home order from the Governor, including any travel for parents and children living outside of Maryland?

Judiciary Response: Provisions in custody orders vary widely.  Parties must comply with restrictions placed by Executive Orders in places where they live and travel.  The March 27, 2020 Statement on Matters Concerning Children and Families confirmed that family law orders remain in effect and should be adhered to unless compliance would violate the provisions of an Executive Order. (2020.04.10)

7. Will the Judiciary release another Statement Concerning Children and Families that will respond to the Governor’s March 30 Executive Order, as practitioners and their clients have expressed confusion and safety concerns about custody and visitation orders?

Judiciary Response: At this time, the Judiciary does not intend to release another statement on this topic. (2020.04.10)

8. While the Executive Order permits travel required by court order, and OLC’s March 30, 2020 Guidance COVID19-08 does not require self-quarantine if a person has minimal contact in Maryland, we have received concerns for parties with more complex custody orders. For example, if one of the parties resides outside of Maryland and transports a child into Maryland for visitation, parties are concerned that the child may have to self-quarantine for 14 days in Maryland. Practitioners are also concerned about how this may impact the non-Maryland parent’s ability to have access again if the exchanges are scheduled to occur more frequently than every 14 days. Can the Judiciary provide guidance?

Judiciary Response: The Judiciary cannot provide guidance on questions relating to specific circumstances.  Parents who have questions are encouraged to consult with counsel, or to seek assistance through self-help resources. (2020.04.10)

9. Parents who meet in third party supervised visitation centers or other public locations for access and exchange due to safety concerns have asked how they should proceed when the public locations that were previously used for visitation and/or exchange, such as schools, libraries and shopping centers, are now closed. Could there be new locations, such as police stations, that could be designated as exchange locations? Should visits be suspended if the third party location is closed? Parties are concerned that if they are unable to transport a child for access and/or exchange during the emergency, they may be held in contempt of the custody order.

Judiciary Response: If visitation centers or exchange locations are closed due to the current emergency, parties can jointly agree to alternative arrangements if permitted under the existing order.  The Judiciary cannot provide more specific guidance concerning alternative locations, as the analysis varies with each case and each court order. (2020.04.10) 

Remote Proceedings

10. Some jurisdictions have conducted remote family law proceedings as the emergency continues. Has the Judiciary considered offering uniform guidance across the courts, as to whether any family proceedings will be done remotely, including hearings, settlement conferences, and/or uncontested divorces?  

Judiciary Response: The technology used varies by court location.  Inquiries should be directed to the local court as to the procedure for remote hearings.  Some courts have posted such information on their websites or on the main judiciary website. (2020.04.10)

11. Has the Judiciary considered more broadly any other categories of proceedings that will be done remotely as the emergency continues?  

Judiciary Response: The April 8 Restricted Operations Order permits local courts to hear matters other than the emergency items listed in the Order to the extent they are able. (2020.04.10) 

12. If such plans are in place, how will the Judiciary ensure that self-represented litigants can participate in remote hearings in a meaningful way?  

Judiciary Response: The procedure or process for all proceedings that are conducted, whether an emergency or if the court is able to handle additional proceedings, will be communicated to the parties and their counsel. (2020.04.10)

Deadlines

Many members reached out to MSBA after reviewing the Judiciary’s April 3 Administrative Orders that tolled or suspended several deadlines. MSBA thanks the Judiciary for acting on this issue, and now presents the following questions from its members.

13. Can the Judiciary clarify as to whether the April 3 Orders have any impact on statutory or rule deadlines for filings not related to “initiation” or hearings on matters? 

Judiciary Response: The Amended Administrative Order on Emergency Tolling or Suspension of Limitations and Statutory and Rules Deadlines Related to the Initiation of Matters and certain Statutory and Rules Deadlines in Pending Matters dated April 8, 2020 (the Tolling Order) does not have any impact on statutory or rules deadlines for filings not related to the initiation of cases or hearings on matters.  Deadlines for motions still control. Litigants should contact their local courts or file the appropriate motion if relief is needed. (2020.04.10)

14. Can the Judiciary clarify as to whether existing deadlines to respond to motions still control? 

Judiciary Response: See the Answer to Question 13. (2020.04.10)

15. Can the Judiciary clarify as to whether the April 3 Administrative Orders toll or suspend any scheduling order deadlines, other than any “deadlines to hear pending matters”? MSBA notes that the April 3 Administrative Order Expanding Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations “maintains that scheduling orders issued in civil and family law matters shall be addressed by motion on a case-by-case basis by the administrative judge or his or her designee.” April 3 Order, Sec. (o).

Judiciary Response: The April 8 Restricted Operations Order controls scheduling orders.  As set forth in the question, they will continue to be handled on a case-by case basis. Litigants should contact their local courts or file the appropriate motion if relief is needed.  (2020.04.10)

16. Circuit courts across Maryland are taking varied approaches to suspensions and extensions of scheduling orders in civil and family law matters. Carroll County has suspended and extended all scheduling orders for civil and family law matters by Administrative Order, while Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, and Baltimore City notified practitioners by letter that any Motions to Modify Scheduling Orders, filed after the court’s reopening, will be addressed in a timely fashion, with extensions to be liberally granted, based upon the time lost due to our closure. The judges of those three jurisdictions further requested that practitioners not file such motions at the present time, effectively asking them to wait until after a deadline expires to file for an extension.  Some jurisdictions have not provided any further guidance regarding scheduling orders and related deadlines. While MSBA notes that Section (o) of the Judiciary’s April 3 Order that states that scheduling orders shall be addressed by motion on a case-by-case basis by the administrative judge, can the Judiciary provide any guidance to practitioners seeking uniformity among the State’s jurisdictions? 

Judiciary Response: Litigants should contact their local courts regarding that court’s local procedure for scheduling orders. Local courts have been encouraged to communicate their current procedure. (2020.04.10)

17. Can the Judiciary clarify as to whether the April 3 Administrative Orders toll or suspend any discovery timelines?

a) Can the Judiciary clarify how the April 3 Orders will impact discovery deadlines in civil and family cases where no scheduling order has been issued yet? Are deadlines to respond to discovery deadlines tolled?

b) Can the Judiciary clarify how the April 3 Orders will impact discovery deadlines in family cases in a county whether scheduling orders are not issued? Is the deadline to respond to discovery deadlines tolled?

Judiciary Response: See the Answers to Questions 13 and 15. (2020.04.10)

18. As try by dates are now tolled, can practitioners seek postponements of cases where discovery may not be completed due to the emergency? 

Judiciary Response: See the Answers to Questions 13 and 15. (2020.04.10)

Currently Scheduled Trials

19. The April 3 Administrative Order on expanding statewide suspension of jury trials states that “any currently scheduled trial date that is at least six weeks after the date that concludes the COVID-19 emergency period as ordered by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals will be maintained, absent further order of the court in which the trial is scheduled.” April 3 Order, Sec (d). Does the Order only refer to jury trials, or does this provision also include civil and bench trials? 

Judiciary Response: The Order applies only to jury trials.  It is anticipated that an Administrative Order will be issued in advance of resumption of court operations. (2020.04.10)

20. Practitioners have had various interpretations of Section (d) of the April 3 Administrative Order and seek guidance from the court. Can the Court provide clarity about this paragraph? 

a) Some practitioners read this paragraph as informing the public that trials scheduled to start through May 15, 2020 (six weeks from today) will not “be maintained,” i.e., they’ve been cancelled, and that the “event horizon” cancelling trial dates six weeks out will continue rolling forward, day by day, until the Chief Judge enters the “back to normal” Order. 

Judiciary Response: When the Chief Judge issues an order declaring the emergency over, the date for any jury trial scheduled more than six weeks out will be maintained, subject to further order of the Chief Judge. (2020.04.10)

b) A second approach suggests that since the current emergency end date is May 1, 2020, the Order mandates postponement of all jury trials scheduled within 6 weeks of May 1 (roughly through June 15). Since courts are not open until at least May 1, all jury trials are cancelled until June 15, 2020.  

Judiciary Response: Correct, through June 15, 2020. (2020.04.10)

Signatures, Filings

21. The Judiciary addressed three non-MDEC jurisdictions in its April 3 Administrative Order expanding restricted operations. Will the Judiciary provide guidance as to whether all non-MDEC jurisdictions will accept electronic signatures in lieu of a ‘live’ signature (as permitted by MDEC) so that documents can be more easily signed by attorneys who are out of the office and filed by other remote staff? 

Judiciary Response: Sections (r) and (s) of the April 8th Restricted Operations Order indicates that the policy of the three non-MDEC counties will be contained in a local administrative order issued by that Court. Each local court should be consulted regarding its practice.  These orders will be posted on the local court’s website or the main website for the Judiciary. (2020.04.10)    

22. Some local courts have requested that no civil matters be filed, except for emergency matters, until court operations return to normal. Members have reached out to MSBA concerned about the wave of filings that may occur when the courts reopen. At the same time, MSBA also recognizes the logistical difficulties in processing filings during the emergency. Can the Judiciary provide any further guidance as to whether non-emergency filings may continue during the emergency to avoid an influx of filings upon reopening, even if they may not be processed until after the courts reopen?  

Judiciary Response: Please see Answer to Question 21. (2020.04.10)

Depositions

23. Given the Governor’s March 30 stay-at-home Executive Order limiting activities, can the Judiciary provide guidance as to whether practitioners should continue to conduct in-person depositions (if there is no agreement to a remote deposition), that would require a process server to serve a subpoena, a court reporter and third party to appear, as well as both parties and their attorneys?

Judiciary Response: The Judiciary cannot comment on this question.  All individuals should follow the Governor’s Order and the advice of the CDC regarding interactions with others during this emergency. (2020.04.10)

Eviction Cases

24. The March 25 Administrative Order on Suspension During the COVID-19 Emergency of Foreclosures, Evictions and other Ejectments involving Residences places stays all pending residential eviction matters and orders. Governor Hogan’s April 3 Executive Order temporarily prohibits evictions of tenants suffering from substantial loss of income due to COVID-19. Since no eviction cases are being heard at present, yet filings for evictions cases continue, when the courts open up again, how do the courts expect to handle the prohibition on evictions due to substantial loss of income related to COVID-19? There is concern that the prohibition from the Executive Order will not be meaningful if tenants do not have attorney representation or unless there is a presumption that the delay in rent payments during the COVID emergency is due to COVID-related loss of income. Can the Judiciary provide guidance on how these two orders interact with each other? Would the Judiciary consider a Rules Committee change to alter the presumption in eviction matters? 

Judiciary Response: The Judiciary cannot comment on the Governor’s Executive Orders.  Litigants should contact their local courts or file the appropriate motion if relief is needed. (2020.04.10)

Competency Hearings

In accordance with the March 25 Administrative Order, it is unclear whether (f) (3)(E) and (f)(4)(B), emergency evaluation petitions, applies only to civil emergency petitions (filed to force an individual living in the community to undergo an emergency psychiatric evaluation to determine if they pose a danger to themselves or others) or also applies to emergency requests for evaluation made by a party when someone has been charged with a crime and one party believes the accused may be incompetent to stand trial. For those who are found incompetent but not dangerous, they could potentially be released pending trial, which would allow them to be released from jail, where their health is at risk due to the congregate setting and COVID-19.

25. Can the Judiciary clarify that both types of emergency evaluations should continue, and that courts should have discretion to hear cases remotely or dispose of cases without a hearing (e.g., if both parties are in agreement about competency or dangerousness)? 

Judiciary Response: The March 25 Order is rescinded by the April 8 Restricted Operations Order.  Both emergency evaluations and competency determinations continue, and all courts are encouraged to use remote means where possible. (2020.04.10) 

26. In relation to Sec. (g)(9) of the March 25 Administrative Order on criminal competency matters, can the Judiciary clarify whether this section includes initial requests for emergency evaluations for persons charged with crimes (as described above), or only follow up hearings for individuals who have been found Incompetent to Stand Trial (IST)? 

Judiciary Response: See the Answer to Question 25. (2020.04.10)

27. Can the Judiciary clarify that “emergency” includes cases for individuals who would potentially be hospitalized or institutionalized as an outcome of the hearing? 

Judiciary Response: See the Answer to Question 25. (2020.04.10)

Personal Service

Under the April 3 Administrative Order, how are Rules 2-121 and 2-112.I in relation to personal service impacted? If a complaint has been filed, but it has not been served, it fits neither as an “initiated” matter under Sec. (a) of the April 3 Order or a “pending” matter under Sec. (b) of the April 3 Order. Can the Judiciary provide clarification on the following questions:

28. If there is a summons that has been issued but not yet served and is going to expire because it can’t be served due to social isolation, will the summons remain active nonetheless? In other words, is the time period for the summons going dormant tolled during this time? 

Judiciary Response: Summons will need to be reissued by the court, at such time the court is able to do so. (2020.04.10)

29. Is the court issuing new summonses? 

Judiciary Response: Pleadings are being accepted at all courts either via MDEC, in drop boxes or by mail as appropriate.  Emergency matters as outlined in the April 8 Restricted Operations Order are being handled. Each court is authorized to handle additional matters as the court is able.  At this time, some courts are continuing to process summonses and garnishments, others are not able to do so.  Each local court should be consulted as to whether the court is processing civil summonses or garnishments. (2020.04.10)

30. Is the court permitting electronic filing as an alternative to personal service if parties file a motion showing regular personal service can’t be accomplished despite good efforts under R. 2-121(c)? For instance, is it a good reason to seek alternative service because due to COVID-19, no one is willing to sign the certified mail return receipt requested, and personal service is difficult because people aren’t out and about or answering their door? 

Judiciary Response: The Judiciary cannot answer this question.  Motions for appropriate relief should be filed with the appropriate court. (2020.04.10)

Note from MSBA to Judiciary: The remaining questions are repeated here from Question Set 4 (Nos. 2, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20), previously submitted on April 2, as they remain of concern to our members.

Pro Se Litigants

31. Civil legal aid organizations have expressed concerns about a pro-se litigant’s 1) ability to understand their duties and obligations during the time of COVID emergency; 2) access to the limited information available related to which cases are moving forward and to know what is expected of the public in terms of filings and deadlines; 3) hardship and health risk if a litigant may not have access to the internet, a computer and/or a printer at home and would find it challenging to adhere to the Governor’s stay-at-home order in order to prepare documents and meet filing deadlines.

How can we assist with a public information campaign to raise public awareness about what it expected from pro-litigants during this time of emergency, especially as it relates to the types of cases being heard, filing deadlines and how they can meet their obligations to the court under the stay-at-home order? 

Judiciary Response: The Self-Help Call-in Center remains open and is accepting calls. See the Answer to Question 3.  The Judiciary is already in the process of an advertising campaign to promote this resource. (2020.04.10)

Deposition

32. The current rules require that the court reporter is present with the deponent for depositions. Attorneys have reported that court reporting companies are requiring a stipulation in advance from counsel agreeing that the oath will not be administered but that the deponent will verbally acknowledge under the penalty of perjury that his testimony is the truth. Some attorneys have not agreed to this, which would result in in-person depositions, which can create a health risk. Can the Judiciary provide guidance regarding the oath that is required for depositions and speak to emergency authority regarding this provision?

Judiciary Response: The Judiciary is unable to answer this question.  All individuals should be following the advice of the CDC regarding interactions with others during this emergency.  (2020.04.10)

Subsidized Housing, Ability to Relocate

33. Practitioners expressed concern for clients who are scheduled to move from a subsidized property to another, and are put in the difficult position to either violate federal law and endanger their subsidy or violate the new Executive Order from March 30 as none of the “essential activities” apply to relocation. Can these individuals seek immediate relief from the Court by emergency motion to protect themselves against violating the Executive Order, in case they are later stopped by law enforcement? 

Judiciary Response: Motions for appropriate relief should be filed with the appropriate court. Each court has a process for reviewing cases and determining whether action is required.  (2020.04.10)

Consumer Debt & Wage Garnishments

34. Given that the Courts are currently closed until May and there is not clarity on the question of whether stimulus checks can be subject to wage garnishment, will the Judiciary provide emergency hearings on debtor’s motions to exempt wages and bank account attachments? 

Judiciary Response: Motions for appropriate relief should be filed with the appropriate court. Each court has a process for reviewing cases and determining whether action is required. (2020.04.10)

35. Will filings for wage garnishments be processed without hearings?

Judiciary Response: Pleadings are being accepted at all courts either via MDEC, in drop boxes or by mail as appropriate.  Emergency matters as outlined in the April 8 Restricted Operations Order are being handled. Each court is authorized to handle additional matters as the court is able.  At this time, some courts are continuing to process summonses and garnishments, others are not able to do so.  Each local court should be consulted as to whether the court is processing civil summonses or garnishments. (2020.04.10)

Illegal Lock-outs

36. While the court has suspended all evictions, the access to justice community is concerned about illegal lockouts. Will individuals be able to seek immediate relief from the Court by emergency motion to abide by the stay-at-home Executive Order? 

Judiciary Response: Motions for appropriate relief should be filed with the appropriate court. Each court has a process for reviewing cases and determining whether action is required.  (2020.04.10)

Access to Online/Remote Hearings

37. Local law schools are looking for ways to continue to provide opportunities for students to observe proceedings. Can the Judiciary share statistics on remote court hearings and whether those remote hearings could be used as substantive learning opportunities for law students? 

Judiciary Response: Each courthouse should be contacted regarding the ability of individuals other than parties to participate remotely.  Please note that most locations are focusing on pending emergency work and working through processes to allow remote participation. (2020.04.10)

Wait Times when Calling Courts

38. The last response from the Judiciary about long wait times requested specific information or examples. Since the last response from the Judiciary, we have a report of a 2-hour phone wait time in the Hyattsville District Court in Prince George’s County. 

Judiciary Response: All locations are making every effort to respond timely however, depending on call volume and staffing, delays can be expected.  The particular court location mentioned has been advised of the concern. (2020.04.10)

Notice Regarding Temporary Protective Orders

39. Advocates are reporting inconsistency through the state in terms of courts sending notice of extension of Temporary Protective Orders. For the jurisdictions that are not sending notification, it remains unclear how law enforcement can distinguish between expired orders or those that have been extended due to the COVID emergency. Can the Judiciary ensure that appropriate notification of extensions of Temporary Protective Orders is uniform statewide? 

Judiciary Response: The protocol for peace, protective and extreme risk protective orders can be found here: https://mdcourts.gov/coronavirusupdateLaw enforcement is provided with hearing dates and any extensions.  Questions regarding a particular case should be addressed to the clerk for the local jurisdiction. (2020.04.10)