The coronavirus outbreak has shattered life as we know it. From entertainment to schooling, daily life events have either been canceled or gone virtual. Like the rest of society, the court system has had to evolve with the pandemic and find innovative solutions to hear cases on short notice.
Although the process has been long and imperfect, the Montgomery County Courts are beginning to reopen and approach full operation standards. Although there are no guarantees in a pandemic environment, the Courts are tentatively set to enter Phase IV of the reopening plan in late August to expand in-person trial proceedings.
The final phase is slated to begin in early October and aims to restore the courts to their pre-pandemic operational capacity. All of these measures currently include provisions for social distancing and safety measures, which may further alter the phase plans.
The court system faces a backlog of cases which makes it difficult to pinpoint a potential timeline for individual proceedings. Like any other legal matter, anyone with a pending case should maintain constant contact with an attorney.
Montgomery County Court Reopening Schedule
To fully understand how the Montgomery County Courts have handled COVID-19, it is important to note the full phase schedule. This helps explain the court backlog timeframe and progress.
Phase I: March 16, 2020 to June 5, 2020
This initial phase saw limited court activity and closed most court buildings to the public. The District Court handled serious cases like bail reviews, bench warrants, juvenile shelter care, emergency evaluations and extreme risk protective orders.
This logistical change and semi-shift to virtual court proceedings began the court backlog.
Phase II: June 8, 2020 to July 17, 2020
Phase two expanded in-person and virtual court matters. The aforementioned priority matters continued and the courts began to address postponed and deferred cases.
The Circuit and District Courts were closed to the general public, with limited exceptions.
Phase III: July 20, 2020 to August 28, 2020 (planned)
Phase three further expands the cases heard by the Circuit and District Courts. These include non-jury trials and matters between landlords and tenants. This phase also begins scheduling docket hearings for Phase IV cases.
Both courts are open to the general public, with social distancing measures in effect. Staffing may still be limited, but the courts are working to help address case backlog.
Phase IV: August 31, 2020 to October 2, 2020 (planned)
Phase four aims to further expand in-person non-jury trials regarding criminal, civil, traffic, family, and juvenile matters. The Courts will also begin scheduling dockets set for Phase V during this time frame.
Social distancing measures will likely remain intact but may change with evolving public safety guidelines.
Phase V: Begins October 5, 2020 (planned)
Phase five is the last phase of the court reopening schedule and aims to restore the court system to full operating power. This will include in-person juries and expansion into hearing all criminal and civil case types.
Like Phase IV, social distancing and safety measures may remain in effect.
Tips for Handling Your Case When the Courts are Closed
Handling a pending case can be nerve-wracking at any time, especially during a pandemic. The anxiety and indefinite waiting time may take a toll on you.
“COVID-19 has affected almost every case, particularly those requiring in-person evidence demonstrations,” says Attorney Tammy Begun of Capital Family Law Group. This delay can make you feel anxious for your case and fear lost momentum. To avoid this inaction fatigue, contact your lawyer on a regular basis to continually discuss your case and any relevant developments.”
To help ease this strain, Tammy Begun offers additional advice for dealing with a court case during COVID-19.
Ask Your Lawyer About What You Should Be Recording
Each case is different, but some cases may have circumstances that require continued recordkeeping during the pandemic. Family law cases, for example, may require you to record instances of custody violations.
Figure out if there is any way to build your case, or at least make it easier, by recording relevant information during the pandemic. This can help you save time in court and supplement your existing evidence.
Continue Treatment Options, if Applicable
Gaps in medical treatment can ruin a case, particularly those related to personal injury. Insurance companies may use these gaps in treatment as evidence your injuries were not as serious as you claim to reduce your insurance settlement.
Other treatment options may include those related to psychological disorders and substance abuse. Continuing this treatment helps signal you are committed to improving yourself and fully pursuing your case.
Although some treatments have been backlogged or virtual since the COVID-19 outbreak, make every possible effort to attend and reschedule your appointments. Doing so can help explain any gaps in treatment and show that you are putting in the effort to receive that treatment.
Make the Preparations for Your Virtual or In-Person Court Visits
Review with your attorney what the procedure will be like. Rehearse what you want to say and review the facts of your case. Plan what clothes to wear for your in-person or virtual appearance.
Taking the time to properly prepare for your court appearance will give you additional confidence. Any time used for research and case preparation may pay dividends in the end. Be sure to perfect the fine details.
Things to Know During COVID-19 Court Reopenings
Like any other procedure during COVID-19, court appearances are subject to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic. Whether your case has been delayed since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak or you have a recent case, it is important to be patient. The court needs to address a large backlog of cases and wants to do so in the most efficient manner that maximizes safety.
To help the process go more smoothly, stay connected with your attorney. Do what you can to work on your case and take the time to fine-tune claim details for when your time in court arrives.
Be sure to use this delayed time wisely. Do everything you can, because it is easier to do your homework now than experience a lengthy appeals process later.