Courts Reopen- Let the Madness Begin

Courts reopened today to different practices and procedures depending on the jurisdiction.  I suggested and the MCDAA formed a Covid-19 Committee to get some uniformity for trial practice.  Only a few judges have been interested in the Organization’s input, although one said to me she could use all the help we can provide.

Criminal courts are basically available for pleas, in addition to the bail reviews we have been doing.  Although Bail Reviews can be done by phone in some jurisdictions I show up.  A lawyer standing in front of a judge is more impressive than a voice over the phone.  I hear those when I am in court and I think it is weak.

July 20th is the date for trials in the District Court for incarcerated defendants, assaults, and DUIs.  No more 20 case dockets.  There will be a few cases and the times will be staggered.  If a trial is going to take 2 hours- like some of mine do- I am not sure it will get started.  Jury trials are scheduled to begin October 5 and Lord help us.  Many courthouses are not equipped to socially distance 50-60 prospective jurors in a courtroom.  The entire jury pool usually consists of a 100 or more and the jury assembly rooms are not  large enough for social distancing.

Baltimore County has Towson University nearby and if there is going to be distance learning then perhaps the large lecture halls can be used. The 2 law schools in Baltimore City may have large Moot Court Rooms.  The War Memorial Building has already been suggested by the Chief Judge.

Now how do I converse with a client?  One judge has told me texting is an option since everyone that is on bail or recog has a cell phone.  That may allow for some social distancing.  What about jail defendants.  This who have had a cell phone snuck into the jail are not bringing it to court.  A judge suggested headsets like the interpreters use, but they only allow for one way communications.  The client can hear the interpreter but not talk back, so that doesn’t work.  Sometimes you get a nudge from a client when something is said by a witness that is wrong.  Stopping the trial to exchange text messages gives the witness the opportunity to look for a way to change the testimony to match what our actions suggest it should be.

Today I am hearing from a lawyer who were not remotely invited to the  Bail Hearings when his appearance was in the case.  Some courthouses are open for lawyers and some are doing everything remotely.  My email box is full of practices and procedures for many different courts.

I call a Clerk today about my Wednesday Pretrial in a Circuit Court, and after some hesitation she told me not to appear.  She said if I work out a plea the court will take it at 2:30 any afternoon.  She told me no cases have been set yet.  They have had weeks to get this prepared.  I called my prosecutor to let her know not to be there Wednesday and have not heard back from her.  I thought everybody would be back today.  I have a shooting case and I have been unable to get a response or the balance of the Discovery for 2 months.  I am not being ignored as the prosecutor is my friend, but there a re a zillion witnesses to summons and they may not be where they were before the shut-down began.

I usually like to be the creator of chaos…  No, I always like to be the creator of chaos.  For probably the next year, I won’t have to create it, it will be front and center.  Some lawyers are already frustrated.  I’ll play the hand that I am dealt as I always have.  I will deal with the Madness and try to make it work to my clients’ benefit.