Updates from the Maryland Judiciary in Response to MSBA Inquiries – April 10, 2020
On April 10, 2020, in collaboration with the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA), the Maryland Judiciary has responded to questions posed by the Bar Association on a variety of topics. In total 39 questions were asked, but some are out of date as of the time of this posting or have been addressed elsewhere. Below are the relevant questions and answers:
Question: How has the Judiciary been working with other branches of government to coordinate emergency planning and strategies, including strategies for reopening or coordinating a gradual return to normal operations?
Judiciary Response: The Judiciary has been coordinating on both state and local levels with justice partners including the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Health, State Attorneys’ offices, Sheriff’s Offices, the Office of the Public Defender, and local detention centers. When a re-opening appears likely, additional Administrative Orders will be issued. (2020.04.10)
Question: As the COVID-19 situation continues to unfold, is there any specific information, issue or concern that the Judiciary would ask the MSBA to communicate back to its members, or for A2JC to communicate to self-represented litigants?
Judiciary Response: The call-in and chat communication tools of the Self-Help Center continue to operate. Self-represented individuals may continue to use this service. Information on how to contact the Self-Help Center can be found here: https://mdcourts.gov/selfhelp. (2020.04.10)
Estates and Trusts
Question: Has the Judiciary considered designating the opening of estates as an “emergency” action, particularly if the COVID emergency extends beyond the next few weeks? Practitioners report that some local jurisdictions are not opening any new estates, leaving a decedent’s assets in limbo since no one can be appointed to act in the decedent’s stead with regard to the preservation of assets or to satisfy obligations.
Judiciary Response: Every Register of Wills’ office remains open and is accepting all filings. They are now accepting all routine filings by email and fax. They are also opening new estates, but, when the decedent died testate, they are requiring the filing of the original Will by physical mail or drop box. If there is an emergency, practitioners should contact the individual Register of Wills’ office directly. (2020.04.10)
Question: Does the April 3 Administrative Order on tolling statutory deadlines also toll the time period for creditors to file pre-death claims against an estate, which would delay final reports and accounting so that estates could not be closed? Would Final Reports Under Modified Administration still need to be timely filed, even though the time for claims might still be tolled and therefore not yet expired?
Judiciary Response: The April 8 Amended Administrative Order Expanding Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations Due to the COVID-19 Emergency (the April 8 Restricted Operations Order) has no effect on the deadline for the filing of creditor’s claims. (2020.04.10)
Question: Can the Judiciary clarify as to whether the April 3 Orders have any impact on statutory or rule deadlines for filings not related to “initiation” or hearings on matters?
Judiciary Response: The Amended Administrative Order on Emergency Tolling or Suspension of Limitations and Statutory and Rules Deadlines Related to the Initiation of Matters and certain Statutory and Rules Deadlines in Pending Matters dated April 8, 2020 (the Tolling Order) does not have any impact on statutory or rules deadlines for filings not related to the initiation of cases or hearings on matters. Deadlines for motions still control. Litigants should contact their local courts or file the appropriate motion if relief is needed. (2020.04.10)
Question: Can the Judiciary clarify as to whether the April 3 Administrative Orders toll or suspend any scheduling order deadlines, other than any “deadlines to hear pending matters”? MSBA notes that the April 3 Administrative Order Expanding Statewide Judiciary Restricted Operations “maintains that scheduling orders issued in civil and family law matters shall be addressed by motion on a case-by-case basis by the administrative judge or his or her designee.” April 3 Order, Sec. (o).
Judiciary Response: The April 8 Restricted Operations Order controls scheduling orders. As set forth in the question, they will continue to be handled on a case-by case basis. Litigants should contact their local courts or file the appropriate motion if relief is needed. (2020.04.10)
Wait Times when Calling Courts
Question: The last response from the Judiciary about long wait times requested specific information or examples. Since the last response from the Judiciary, we have a report of a 2-hour phone wait time in the Hyattsville District Court in Prince George’s County.
Judiciary Response: All locations are making every effort to respond timely however, depending on call volume and staffing, delays can be expected. The particular court location mentioned has been advised of the concern. (2020.04.10)
Pro Se Litigants
Question: Civil legal aid organizations have expressed concerns about a pro-se litigant’s 1) ability to understand their duties and obligations during the time of COVID emergency; 2) access to the limited information available related to which cases are moving forward and to know what is expected of the public in terms of filings and deadlines; 3) hardship and health risk if a litigant may not have access to the internet, a computer and/or a printer at home and would find it challenging to adhere to the Governor’s stay-at-home order in order to prepare documents and meet filing deadlines. How can we assist with a public information campaign to raise public awareness about what it expected from pro-litigants during this time of emergency, especially as it relates to the types of cases being heard, filing deadlines and how they can meet their obligations to the court under the stay-at-home order?
Judiciary Response: The Self-Help Call-in Center remains open and is accepting calls. The Judiciary is already in the process of an advertising campaign to promote this resource. (2020.04.10)
Question: If there is a summons that has been issued but not yet served and is going to expire because it can’t be served due to social isolation, will the summons remain active nonetheless? In other words, is the time period for the summons going dormant tolled during this time?
Judiciary Response: Summons will need to be reissued by the court, at such time the court is able to do so.
Question: Is the court issuing new summonses?
Judiciary Response: Pleadings are being accepted at all courts either via MDEC, in drop boxes or by mail as appropriate. Emergency matters as outlined in the April 8 Restricted Operations Order are being handled. Each court is authorized to handle additional matters as the court is able. At this time, some courts are continuing to process summonses and garnishments, others are not able to do so. Each local court should be consulted as to whether the court is processing civil summonses or garnishments. (2020.04.10)