House Republicans Call for the Courts to Reopen

    House Republican leaders sent a letter to Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera Monday requesting that she provide an update to her plan to open the courts — noting that court employees were included in the first phase of the state’s vaccination plan.

    “Maryland courts provide essential services to our citizen[s],” House Minority Leader Nicholaus R. Kipke (R-Anne Arundel) said in a statement. “Now that judicial staff has access to vaccinations it is important that we move forward with an accelerated reopening.”

    Barbera last year issued a five-stage reopening plan for Maryland’s judicial system. State courts entered into phase five of the plan on Oct. 5, allowing jury trials to resume.

    But Barbera reverted to phase three on Nov. 12 as COVID-19 cases began to surge, and moved back to phase two on Nov. 24.

    Per an order issued by Barbera on Dec. 22, the Judiciary will remain in phase two until March 14.

    Under this phase of the plan, the Circuit Court is able to hear emergency petitions, matters regarding temporary restraining orders, status and scheduling conferences, bail reviews, bench warrants, arraignments, plea agreements, uncontested divorces, protective orders, child in need of assistance matters and any hearings that can be held remotely or do not require testimony.

    District courts can hear bail reviews, guilty pleas, petitions for mental health assessments, temporary restraining and protective orders and some landlord-tenant matters.

    The Court of Appeals and Court of Special Appeals are fully operational.

    Kipke said that, as Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) pushes for schools to reopen, it’s time for the courts to move forward with a plan to reopen, as well.

    “Our constituents feel very strongly that it is time to return to a more normal schedule of operations, and we are hopeful that you agree,” his letter, co-signed by Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Baltimore County) reads.

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    Hannah Gaskill
    Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.