Without offering details, she told the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee that reopening buildings to the public would involve “leveraging technology, incorporating social distancing, restructuring dockets and rethinking current business practices.”
Lawyer Margaret Teahan, representing a subgroup of the Maryland Bar Association, said at the hearing that lawyers are concerned about the logistics of conducting trials and other proceedings under health-related strictures such as social distancing.
She urged lawmakers to consider how defense attorneys would be able to confer privately with clients in courtrooms at distances of six feet. She also wondered about accommodations for lawyers who have health problems that make them especially vulnerable to the virus and how jury pools could be safety assembled.
Meanwhile, speaking for the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy raised a red flag about spousal- and child-abuse cases, saying he and other prosecutors “are concerned that during periods of social isolation, there may be increased domestic violence going on in our community.”
For example, he said, “child abuse complaints in my county are down. . . . The number-one conduits by which we receive complaints about child abuse and neglect against kids is teachers and counselors. And they’re not having those contacts.”
Similarly, he said, 96 percent of complaints about abuse or neglect of senior citizens in Montgomery normally comes from “parties who are not the victims.” During the social isolation of the pandemic, he said, those complaints “are down substantially” in the county.
As for reopening courthouses, Barbera said that certain remote systems used for court proceedings during the pandemic have proved to be efficient, and she suggested some of them might remain in place after the health crisis has passed.
“We have seen plea agreements, bail reviews and uncontested divorces conducted successfully on a remote basis,” she told the committee. “We are especially excited that judges are holding drug and mental-health court dockets using remote technology.”
She said, “We’ll seek to have in place the safeguards necessary to protect, as much as we reasonably can, the public, judiciary personnel and our justice partners.” She added, “We have a long way to go before we seen an end” to the disruption caused by the pandemic.