The State Judiciary Branch on Friday announced a number of changes in the way the court system will operate in coming weeks.

“In light of public health concerns arising from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Maine’s Judicial Branch is taking steps to adhere to the guidance provided by the Maine and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” according to an update on the judiciary website. “Persons identified as being infected by COVID-19, having had contact with those infected by COVID-19, or having visited areas identified as problematic due to the prevalence of COVID-19 should not come to Maine’s courthouses.”

Although courthouses will remain open, there are several changes to the system, the website states.

“Effective immediately, and continuing through May 1, with the exception of the events listed below, all in-person court events for family, civil, and criminal dockets are postponed. The courts will schedule and hear only the following.”

They include:

  • Arraignments and first appearances of defendants held in custody;
  • Motions for review of bail;
  • Juvenile detention hearings;
  • Protection from Abuse requests and hearings;
  • Protection from Harassment requests and hearings;
  • Child Protection petitions and hearings;
  • Mental health requests and hearings.

“This means that no criminal or civil jury trials will be heard in the Maine State Courts until after May 1, unless otherwise ordered by the court,” according to the website. “No grand jury proceedings  will be held. All previously-scheduled cases are postponed. Any trials in progress may be completed.”

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The order does leave open the possibility for defendants to argue that their cases should be heard immediately.

“If a party or the party’s attorney contends that there are urgent and compelling reasons that the court should hold the party’s criminal, civil, or family trial or hearing,” according to the order, “the party or counsel shall immediately file a written motion, which must be served on the other party or parties, explaining why this particular case must be heard before May 1. If any party objects to the motion, it must file its written opposition within three days after the motion is filed. The court will rule on the motion expeditiously.”

The website offers these instructions: “Jurors: Please do not appear at the courthouse for jury duty. Except for trials that have already begun, all  report dates between Monday, March 16, 2020, and Friday, May 1, 2020, are canceled. Please check the Maine Judicial Branch website for any updates. If you have been chosen to serve on a jury, please call the courthouse before you appear.

“Litigants: If your jury trial is now scheduled between March 16 and May 1, 2020, your trial will be rescheduled and you will receive notice of the new trial date.

“Extension of the present cancellation period will be reviewed on an ongoing basis with notice provided to all parties.”

For more information, visit: courts.maine.gov/covid19.shtml.

 


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