Frederick Courthouse (copy)

The Frederick County Courthouse on West Patrick Street as seen from the roof of the Patrick Center.

The Maryland Court of Appeals has temporarily closed circuit and district courts to the public over concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The announcement came shortly before 7 p.m. in an email press release from the Maryland Judiciary with an order closing the courts from Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, the state’s highest court. The order specifically cites concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and stipulates the following:

  • All courts in the Maryland Judiciary, court offices, administrative offices, units of the Judiciary, and the Offices of the Clerks of the Circuit Courts shall be closed to the public on an emergency basis, effective March 16, 2020; however, Judiciary operations shall continue to the extent practicable. Maryland Judiciary personnel shall report as scheduled, unless otherwise excused by their administrative head.

The press release accompanying the order stipulated that the closure would be in effect for only three weeks, until April 3, but the order itself indicated that the order was subject to revisions “as circumstances warrant.”

The order also outlined several hearings that will still be held due to the urgent matters at hand. Those hearing types can be found in a sidebar to this story. All other matters not addressed that were previously scheduled to take place between Monday and April 3 were postponed pending a future order from Barbera.

The order came a day after Barbera issued an order temporarily suspending criminal and civil jury trials in the state between Monday and April 3. That order came on the heels of a televised press conference on Thursday headlined by Gov. Larry Hogan on efforts to stem the tide of COVID-19 infections in which Hogan announced that the Maryland Emergency Management Agency was moving to its highest level of alert, the activation of the National Guard and a ban on gatherings and events of more than 250 people.

Barbera’s original order also cited concerns over the spread of COVID-19, but stipulated only that jury trials in circuit courts scheduled to take place between Monday and April 3 be suspended temporarily and hearings be scheduled to set new dates.

The most recent order closing state courts to the public did not mention whether or not credentialed members of the press would be exempted from the ban and The Frederick News-Post has contacted the judge’s chambers and public information officers with the Maryland Judiciary to request clarification on the matter. Neither had responded as of Friday evening.

Friday’s order also stipulated the following:

  • This administrative order does not affect the courts’ consideration or resolution of matters that can be addressed without a proceeding that involves testimony or argument.
  • Court personnel will be available by telephone, and mail and paper filings will be received. [The Maryland Electronic Courts system] continues to be available for electronic filings.
  • To the extent this administrative order conflicts with any other extant administrative order, whether local or statewide, this administrative order shall prevail.
  • To the extent that an individual court has the capacity to hear additional matters, this administrative order does not prohibit such proceedings, with access to members of the public as justice requires. Courts shall notify all participants to the proceeding if a matter will proceed.

In addition to the order, the Frederick County Adult Detention Center also announced that, following the governor’s order for a temporary in-person ban on visitation at state prison facilities, in-person visitation has been temporarily suspended at the county jail, according to a Frederick County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman.

The sheriff’s office further clarified on Friday that visitation to the county’s work release program was also temporarily suspended, along with fingerprinting services at the Frederick County Law Enforcement Center.

Follow Jeremy Arias on Twitter:

@Jarias_Prime.

Jeremy Arias is the Frederick city and government reporter for The Frederick News-Post.

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