On March 17, all courthouses in Maryland closed to the public due to the COVID-19 emergency, and this affected marriage licenses, real estate transactions, business licenses and court proceedings, which are processed by the Clerk’s Office. Beginning on June 8, 2020, courthouses have started a phased reopening. Several of our business processes were impacted and will continue to be impacted as we move back toward normal operations.
Before COVID, the Clerk’s Office usually issued about 400 marriage licenses monthly. However, due to a requirement in the state’s marriage laws, applications for marriage licenses must be made in person when the courthouse is open. Thus, during much of the closing we could process only emergency marriage license applications (for example, people with a medical reason or service members about to be deployed). But on May 13, Governor Larry Hogan signed an executive order temporarily allowing remote marriage applications and online video wedding ceremonies. Our phones have been ringing off the hook ever since.
If you would like to apply for a marriage license, you can find information www.circuitcourt.org, or by calling our license department at 410-222-1434. Please keep in mind that remote marriage licenses and online video weddings will be permitted only until the state of emergency is lifted.
During the closure, our Land Records Department continued processing deeds, mortgages and other land record instruments. Land Records received its work from electronic filings, the regular mail and a drop-box, located in the courthouse, that we set up when the courthouse closed but which we plan to continue using in the future. We processed over 20,000 property transactions between March 17 and the end of May, and we will continue to process documents as they are received with no delays.
Throughout the closure, the Clerk’s Office continued processing business license applications through the mail and through the courthouse drop-box. We processed over 4,500 business licenses between March 17 and the end of May. Business owners should be aware that the governor issued an executive order on March 12, extending the date of any expiring licenses until 30 days after the state of emergency is lifted. But the license office is processing licenses now as they are received with no delays.
During the closure the courts continued to function for emergencies, select criminal matters and other essential hearings. These were done remotely with a courtroom clerk in the courtroom and parties, their lawyers and the judge all using call-in technology. Also, because we use the Maryland Electronic Court (MDEC) system, people can file court documents electronically, allowing their cases to move forward despite the courthouse being closed to the public.
Our clerks processed over 48,000 case documents between March 17 and the end of May. Jury trials have been suspended during the state of emergency and they are not anticipated for several months. However, when they do begin again, we are preparing to handle the backlog of over 1,000 criminal hearings and many more civil hearings.
I would like to personally thank the employees of the Clerk’s Office for their dedication to getting the job done despite facing obstacles that were unprecedented in the history of the court system. And I would also like to thank Chief Judge Barbera, Administrative Judge Ripken and the judiciary, who have been so supportive in balancing employee safety with the need to keep the courts operating.
Scott Poyer is the clerk of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court. The opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maryland judiciary.