Not Guilty In Baltimore County at 9:45AM and Long Madness Update

Gary S Bernstein

| Aug 13, 2020 | Firm News |

I have closed many courthouses with long trials.  In District Court that means 6:30-7:00 PM.  I never closed it at 9:45 AM.  When courts reopened they set 3 cases for the entire courthouse.  The first two were pleas
so mine started at 9:15 AM.  I never get to start at 9:15 AM as I am last with a trial.  When the judge ruled the stop was illegal it was 9:45 AM and she was finished business for the day. Since that day the number of cases and open courtrooms has varied from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.  I had a legal argument in a case set for 3:30 PM.  The judge was doing 2 different courtrooms even though we have enough judges to staff all the courtrooms.  He had been doing that all week and that makes no sense.  We probably had 10 judges home doing nothing that day.  Some courts do everything remotely.  Harford County Circuit Court does guilty pleas remotely even where the client has to then turn himself or herself into the Detention Center.  I did one case remotely in Anne Arundel County District Court because my client registered a 100.3 temperature at the front door.  We used my phone and she was on FaceTime and I was in the courtroom.  It was fine.Baltimore City Circuit Court has some employees who tested positive for Covid and Judge Carrion sent a memo to EVERYONE and shut down the courtrooms and elevators and entrances for disinfecting.  Prompt ad thorough.

Baltimore County District Court had concerns of positive Covid testing and nothing was sent out. It turns out I was there that day and interacted with the attorney but heard it about it “on the street” a week later.  We were all masked and social distanced from the lawyer so nothing was spread.  That was 3 weeks ago.Now we just received the plans for how jury trials will be conducted.  It is well thought out from a safety concern.  Everyone will be as protected as one can be.  Actually finding the space and ability to carryout the trial is a different story.  I have a case pushed back to February that we think will take up to 2 weeks because of the new procedures.  I am fine with that because I want to be in court. I am concerned that we might not get to try the case that day even though we have some priority because the cases set on the days before ours will also take longer to try. Cases are going to run into each other and it will be a mad scramble to figure out which case should be delayed a day or two to start or postponed for a few more months where it will be the same situation.  Without a viable vaccine things will not be normal.What about the jury pool?  Is anyone over 60 going to try to opt out?  Is anybody with asthma going to try to opt out?  The plan envisions dealing with parents whose children are remote learners.  Are there enough childless, under 60, 100% healthy people to comprise the jury pool.  Should Blacks and Latinos be entitled to be excused because of their higher propensity to catch Covid-19 and die.  Isn’t that a group that also merits special consideration?  So whose left?  Is it really a cross section of the community and a jury of your peers?  I expect defense lawyers to scrutinize the jury pool with this in mind.

Without a vaccine this is the new normal and we have to adjust to it.  We cannot lose sight of the fact that as awkward as it is we have to do justice for our clients and protect their rights.  I have turned down 2 “Covid deals” because I think I can win the case on the issue of a bad arrest. I don’t opt out of my responsibilities to the clients.  The balance of their fees sit in my Escrow account and I will “get paid” when the case is over. Trying cases is fun, even with this madness.