The Maryland State Bar Association represents over 40,000 attorneys and is the state’s leading voice for the legal profession. The MSBA frequently engages in public advocacy efforts to protect and further the interests of the legal profession, including filing amicus curiae briefs and meeting with executive branch officials.
The MSBA also actively shapes practice-related legislation and public policy in Annapolis. The Laws Committee is an essential part of the MSBA’s legislative advocacy, spearheading efforts to help to shape public policy and laws that impact the legal profession via oral and written testimony during the Maryland General Assembly legislative sessions. David Cahn and Kelly Hughes Iverson currently serve as co-chairs of the Laws Committee and Meg McKee serves as vice-chair.
The MSBA Laws Committee Process—Analyzing Bills & Making Recommendations
The Laws Committee typically meets weekly when the General Assembly is in session. During each meeting, the Laws Committee reviews proposed legislation that could impact Maryland’s legal profession. If the Laws Committee finds a bill warrants further consideration, it analyzes whether it should recommend that the MSBA support, support with amendments, oppose, or monitor the bill.
The Laws Committee then offers its analysis and recommendation to the MSBA Board of Governors. The Board considers the respective recommendations and votes on whether to adopt them; if the Board adopts the Laws Committee’s recommendation, no section can take an opposing position. If the Laws Committee rejects a section’s recommendation, the section may take independent action if it does not conflict with the MSBA’s position. While the entire process is relatively involved, it must happen very quickly, as there are often mere days between when a bill is introduced and when legislative hearings occur.
Throughout the process, the Laws Committee is guided by the State Legislative Program, a comprehensive handbook that sets forth the MSBA’s positions on broad legislative issues such as the regulation of the legal profession, the administration of justice, and the independence of the judiciary. The Laws Committee reviews and revises the State Legislative Program annually, to ensure that it continues to uphold the MSBA’s objectives, after which it is approved by the Board of Governors.
The 2023 Legislative Session
Some of the bills the Laws Committee is focusing on during the 2023 Legislative Session deal with expungements, contested elections, and remote access to the courts.
The MSBA recognizes that comprehensive expungement reform is required to balance the need to help those with criminal records progress in their lives with the need to permit the public to research the background of people with whom they might hire or contract.
Therefore, the MSBA monitors expungement legislation and remains committed to providing subject-matter expertise to the General Assembly related to expungement reform. The State Bar’s unique perspective and the knowledge of our legal practitioners, ranging from prosecutors, defense attorneys, those working in juvenile justice, and more, will allow the MSBA to lead efforts for a comprehensive approach to Maryland’s expungement policies. Several expungement bills were heard in legislative Committees this week and are also scheduled for next week. The MSBA will keep you updated with the latest developments.
Contested Judicial Elections and Electoral Process
Two bills (SB132, SB195) filed during the 2023 Legislative Session aim to modify elections of the offices of the State’s Attorney, Clerk of the Circuit Court, Register of Wills, Sheriff, and Orphan’s Court Judges on a non-partisan basis. Specifically, both bills would require candidates for these positions to appear on the ballot without party designation.
In Maryland, circuit court judges are appointed by the Governor and then must run in a contested election within two years following the first year of service. The MSBA’s position is that contested elections for sitting circuit court judges create an unfair system and reduces the incentive for qualified individuals to apply.
The MSBA supports legislation that seeks to eliminate contested judicial elections. The MSBA also reviews and monitors any proposed legislation that impacts judicial elections. Presently, the Laws Committee is seeking additional information on the relevant bills and the potential impact they could have on judicial elections from the sponsors of the bills and from MSBA sections.
Remote Public Access
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated remote technology and video capability for virtual court proceedings as well as public access to virtual dockets. Both the Supreme Court of Maryland and the legislature have been dealing with many novel issues related to these leaps in remote technology since 2020. As technology improves, the ability to record court proceedings could expand, but the judicial branch should be given appropriate consideration and deference regarding the broadcast and regulation of court proceedings, particularly for sensitive criminal proceedings. Analysis of the fiscal impact of implementing and maintaining A/V equipment and systems must also be reviewed.
Currently, two bills (HB133, SB43) would require the courts to provide remote audio-visual access to all court proceedings, with some exceptions. SB43 was introduced in the 2022 legislative session as SB0469. The MSBA filed a letter of information with Members of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to provide insight into the implications of the bill.
The MSBA monitors the opportunities to implement new technology, while also giving appropriate discretion to the Court to regulate the broadcasting and recording of court proceedings. While the MSBA supports the theory of transparency and current efforts by the Judiciary and partners to achieve those goals, they filed opposition to HB133 and SB43, stating that the bills raise concerns about separation of powers and infringing on judicial authority, given the constitutional directive of the Judiciary to manage public access to court proceedings. The Judiciary is actively working towards greater public access to court hearings and the MSBA believes the Judiciary remains in the best position to lead methods and procedures for remote access across all courts, considering the range of technology and available funds to provide remote access in courthouses across the state.
The MSBA notes that the Delivery of Legal Services, serving under our partner the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, filed testimony in support of this bill, focused on increased opportunities for advocates to gain a better insight into the administration of justice and barriers to accessing justice. Their goals and perspective align with the MSBA’s support for transparency and public access, and we appreciate their testimony.
The MSBA invites its members to draw on their vast range of expertise and provide input on legislation pending in the 2023 Legislative Session. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to provide insight on pending legislation and visit our Advocacy web page, and the 2023 Section Bill Reports to see what bills we are tracking.