The following post was written by attorney, David Nowak and shared via Social Media. It is reposted here with his permission.
I had my first hearing since the pandemic in the District Court for Baltimore County at 1 Rolling Crossroads (sitting as Towson District Court) and wanted to share my experience. (TLDR Version: Had a DV trial with appropriate social distancing and people wearing gloves and masks. Otherwise normal day in court with fewer people.)
We were scheduled for a Final Protective Order hearing specially set. Most FPOs are being pushed out until after the court closure. Upon approaching the building a bailiff poked his head from a door and asked if I was an attorney, if I had a bar card, and what case [I] was there for. After he confirmed the information I was permitted to enter the courthouse and was asked to disinfect my hands at a Purell station. All of the bailiffs wore gloves and masks.
From a distance I was asked a series of questions to determine if I had symptoms consistent with Covid-19 within the last 7 days or been around anyone with those symptoms in the last 7 days. The bailiff again confirmed that I was an attorney and confirmed my case was on the docket. I was then cleared to proceed to the courtroom.
It appeared that there was only one courtroom operating on the fourth floor. Judge Siri was sitting and hearing cases. Everyone that had a case on the docket was sitting in the gallery, although I was under the impression that each case was going to be called separately with only the participants in each case being in the courtroom. It appears they are trying to stagger cases by setting them in at different times throughout the day to limit the number of people in the courthouse. An interpreter was available for a different case, but the attorney had specifically requested the interpreter.
The cases were called just like any other day. There was some question about whether protective order hearings scheduled for May would proceed due to the newest order closing courts until June. There is no doubt that the District Court is going to be very busy with protective orders when normal business returns but apparently they are prioritizing cases with child abuse, firearms and removal from residences. Judge Siri stated judges had discretion to set in the cases depending on the circumstances.
During the trial, it was a little awkward handing up exhibits and approaching witnesses. The bailiffs wore masks and gloves and retrieved exhibits and moved them to the witnesses, the judge or the clerk. The witnesses did not wear masks while testifying and opposing counsel and I both did not wear masks during examination and argument. There was no mention of whether parties and counsel had to wear a mask, or if witnesses had to wear a mask or not. The masks did make it difficult to speak at volume and to be heard clearly.
There was no thought to wiping down tables or cleaning microphones after each witness/case, which I thought may be a good idea [going forward].
After the case concluded we picked up our order from the Clerk’s office. It looked like there were only two clerks in the office. One was at the window and one at a desk. And off we went. Everyone seemed very cautious and accommodating to social distancing. It was definitely an unusual experience but it looks like the court is adapting to these circumstances and the clients got their day in court.