The State of the Maryland and Montgomery County Judiciaries
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland courts are closed through June 5, 2020, except for emergencies. It is unknown if the closure will be extended.
The Maryland Judiciary has issued multiple Administrative Orders in light of court closures to help guide lawyers and litigants and to respond to their concerns regarding the closure. These Administrative Orders affect certain Maryland statutes, rules, and processes, and permit courts to hold remote proceedings to hear certain matters during the emergency period.
Information Issued by the Maryland Judiciary
On April 8, 2020, the Maryland Judiciary suspended Maryland Rules 2-507 and 3-507 relating to the District and Circuit Courts. Suspending these rules means that a claim cannot be dismissed for lack of prosecution while the emergency period continues.
All statutory and rules deadlines related to the initiation of new matters are delayed by the number of days the courts are closed to the public effective March 16, 2020. The same applies to all statutory and rules deadlines to hear pending matters.
All Circuit Courts are hearing emergency matters, which include:
- Bail reviews/bench warrants;
- Arraignments for detained defendants;
- Juvenile detention hearings;
- Juvenile shelter care hearings;
- Peace order petitions (juvenile respondents);
- Emergency evaluation petitions;
- Quarantine and isolation petitions;
- Extradition cases;
- Body attachments; and
- Extreme risk protective order appeals.
District Courts are also hearing emergency matters, which include:
- Bail reviews/bench warrants;
- Emergency evaluation petitions;
- Quarantine and isolation violations; and
- Body attachments.
The Administrative Judge for each court reviews all filings and determines whether it will be heard in-person or by remote electronic participation, whether the matter will be scheduled after the emergency period ends, and whether it can be resolved without a hearing. This includes, but is not limited to, the following matters: Child in Need of Assistance matters, domestic violence protective orders, family law emergencies, and requests for temporary extreme risk protective orders, domestic violence protective orders, peace orders, and contempt orders related to violation of peace or protective orders.
Specific Information Relating to Montgomery County
Different courts accept filings differently – some require things be filed electronically (known as MDEC jurisdictions) and others require filings in paper form (non-MDEC jurisdictions). In non-MDEC jurisdictions, such as Montgomery County, which accept filings in paper form, the Administrative Judge may issue his/her own guidance for that court.
Montgomery County Circuit Court’s Administrative Judge Robert A. Greenberg, has been giving guidance to attorneys and litigants. In his April 1, 2020 letter, Judge Greenberg clarified that the following constitute non-emergency matters: new Complaints in Civil Actions, motions, answers, responses, notice of service of discovery, and other matters that do not require the court’s immediate attention.
Judge Greenberg requests that every filing be marked as ‘emergency’ or ‘non-emergency’ on the envelope. Further, Judge Greenberg requests that non-emergency matters not be filed while the courts are closed. Clerks are working to process emergency and non-emergency matters but are prioritizing emergency matters. Clerks will note the date of all filings, and the filings will be docketed as soon thereafter as possible, but people should not expect to see the filing immediately input on Maryland Case Search.
Upon a motion by either party, family law scheduling orders will be addressed by the Administrative Judge by motion on a case-by-case basis. In his April 2, 2020 letter, Judge Greenberg stated that Motions to Modify Scheduling Orders, filed after the Court reopens, will be addressed in a timely manner and extensions will be liberally granted based upon time lost due to the Court’s closure.
Electronic Filings Permitted in Montgomery County Circuit Court
On April 10, 2020, Judge Greenberg issued an Administrative Order Regarding Electronic Filing, permitting electronic filings via a virtual drop box for discovery available only in Civil Track 3 cases (which are standard 2 to 3 day trials including but not limited to, personal injury, property damage, and breach of contract claims). It also applies only for motions upon failure to provide discovery pursuant to Rule 2-432; motions for discovery protective orders pursuant to Rule 2-403; and motions to quash deposition subpoenas pursuant to Rule 2-510(f).
For filings submitted via the virtual drop box, a paper copy also does not need to be filed with the Court, but there is specific criteria it must meet, for example, the supporting memoranda may not exceed 15 pages in length and, motions and oppositions must be filed as PDFs at the same time.
In order to file something via the virtual drop box, a party must send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the name of the files in the following format: 12345V [case number] Motion to Compel [name of motion] Filed April 9 2020 [file date]. The party sending the email will then receive a link to upload the documents. The Court will make a decision on these motions without a hearing. The April 10, 2020 Order clarifies that a signature on a motion submitted for electronic filing is acceptable and has the same force and effect as a signature required under Maryland Rule 1-311.
On April 15, 2020, Judge Greenberg issued an Order relating to juvenile emergencies, permitting that parties and agencies may file petitions, motions, oppositions, memos and reports electronically as attachments to an email. Filings should be sent to: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com, or other email addresses that the Clerk of the Court designates.
District Court in Rockville
In the Rockville District Court, filings are accepted by locked lobby box in the Court or via mail. All courtroom proceedings are remote unless otherwise contacted by the court. If an emergency hearing is granted, the clerk’s office will contact attorneys and/or parties to schedule a date and time for the hearing. Domestic violence hearings will be limited to 30 minutes total. The Court set up an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for domestic violence hearings only to receive exhibits, documents, and photos. Orders will be provided by mail or email and to the Sherriff.
Uncontested Divorce Hearings in Montgomery County Circuit Court
Between May 4, 2020 and June 5, 2020 the Circuit Court for Montgomery County will conduct some uncontested divorce hearings remotely via BlueJeans technology before a Magistrate. The hearings will be set in 15-minute increments and will be by audio only. If a client or party had an uncontested divorce hearing scheduled in May or June before the court closure, the hearing will be conducted on the date it was originally scheduled subject to the following schedule:
- Magistrate Whittier: May 4-May 8
- Magistrate Khozeimeh: May 11-May 15
- Magistrate Segel: May 18-May 22
- Magistrate Polis: May 26-May 29
- Magistrate Goldman: June 1-June 5
The following uncontested divorce cases will be reset once the court reopens to the public: (1) hearings requiring an interpreter, (2) cases that are not in a posture to go forward (for example, no answer/no default), and (3) cases that do not have all required documents in the file at least one week prior to the hearing. Required documents include marital settlement agreements and child support guidelines (if applicable). Parties and counsel will receive a phone call from a blocked phone number one week prior to the scheduled hearing to confirm all exhibits and documents are filed and there are not any questions of authenticity. On this phone call, the dial-in information will be provided for the uncontested divorce hearing.
If the time and date of the remote uncontested divorce hearing is inconvenient, the Court requests that counsel not file a Motion to Postpone. Instead, the Court asks that counsel discuss resetting the hearing first and then contact the Magistrate’s assistant. If exhibits or an agreement are being filed via the Court’s dropbox, mark the outside of the envelope as follows in bold, “Exhibits for hearing scheduled for May __, 2020.” Questions should be directed to the appropriate Magistrate’s assistant via e-mail or phone.
In addition, questions or concerns may be directed to essential court personnel. Essential court personnel are available by phone to the public between 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The family law department at Lerch Early & Brewer are staying on top of recent developments in the Maryland Judiciary.
Liz Estephan is a family law attorney who assists people with domestic relations issues, including separation, divorce, custody, property, and support matters in Maryland. For more information, contact her at 301-907-2811 or email@example.com.