COVID-19 And The Courts

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As I write this article on March 23, we are all experiencing an unprecedented upheaval in our lives caused by the COVID-19 health crisis affecting the globe. Most tragically, 15,000 people have died worldwide. Markets are in a free-fall. Our children are home from school. As of 11:00am this morning, all non-essential Maryland businesses are closed, joining the restaurants, bars and health clubs that were shuttered the week before. We are advised not to get too close to our elderly grandparents, parents and loved ones. Supermarket shelves cannot be stocked fast enough. Health care workers are pulling double shifts. In my nearly 59 years, I have not experienced anything like this.

Since March 16, all state courts have been restricted to emergency operations, through at least April 3. They have been closed to the public and lawyers. Most matters have been postponed and will be rescheduled. Essential personnel, which include administrative judges, court administrators and administrative heads, have been required to report to work. Administrative judges are determining what cases may be heard with remote electronic participation, or can be rescheduled after the emergency period has ended, or can be resolved without a hearing.

The Anne Arundel County Circuit Court has sent out a call for volunteer attorneys to be on standby should a petition be filed by an individual or group contesting isolation and/or quarantine as the result of a government directive. Individuals ordered for quarantine and/or isolation are entitled to challenge the decision in the Circuit Court and to have counsel appointed to represent them.

At the Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC, we are planning for worse and hoping for better. We are socially distancing, washing our hands frequently and soldiering onward. We are fortunate to be among the essential business “that support the judicial system.” Nevertheless, things have changed. I haven’t been in court since March 12. Many of our clients are unable to work and they do not know if their jobs will still be around when the crisis passes. I am not sure of much, as we do what we can to stem the disorder, but I am nearly sure that my next court appearance on April 7 is likely to be postponed.

Fortunately for the day-to-day practice of the law, most of the state’s courts allow for the electronic filing of court documents. While I prefer face-to-face exchanges with clients, during the emergency, video conferencing and old-fashioned telephone calls are nearly as effective, without the threat of contagion.

Lawyers and their clients are confronted by myriad deadlines. Most lawsuits must be filed within three years of the event. Every complaint filed brings deadlines for naming experts, completing discovery, amending pleadings, filing pre-trial statements, etc. For criminal defendants, there is a constitutional right to a speedy trial. It remains to be seen whether or not any of these legal deadlines will be waived by our courts.

Finally, if you or a loved one have questions about the legal ramifications posed by the COVID-19 health crisis, you should consult with an attorney you can trust and who will assist you in making informed decisions.

David Diggs is your neighbor and legal counsel. If you need further information regarding this subject, contact The Law Office of David V. Diggs LLC at 410-244-1171 or david@diggslaw.com. The office is located at 8684 Veterans Highway, Suite 204, in Millersville.

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