As Maryland Circuit Courts gear up to resume jury trials on October 5, state judiciary officials briefed state lawmakers on plans to bring juries back to the courtroom in a virtual meeting on Tuesday, September 22. Administrative judges explained how jury trials will not look like they used to and it will not be “business as usual” quite yet.
To enter a state courthouse, visitors will be required to wear a mask at all times, answer a series of COVID-19 screening questions, have their temperature taken and maintain social distancing while inside the facility. Fewer trials will be scheduled and plexiglass dividers have been installed for juror’s safety. “The days of packing jurors in jury boxes across the state, and sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in a jury box are over for now,” said Sheila Tillerson Adams, administrative judge for Prince George’s County.
Some courthouses had to get creative to find larger spaces to allow for social distancing. For example, Worcester County Circuit Courts will use the Snow Hill Fire Department’s social hall for jury selection. Additionally, Judge Laura Ripken, chair of the Conference of Circuit Judges said “Garrett County is making use of the high school gymnasium. Dorchester County has arranged use of the Governor’s Hall which is actually an old warehouse. And yes, Baltimore County is considering the Cow Palace at the Fairgrounds.” Some courts will use adjacent rooms for a single trial which will then be connected by technology.
And as for concerns about adequate ventilation, the state court administrator says Circuit Courts, which are county funded, are working with local officials to make sure ventilation systems are up to par.