Message from the Circuit Court

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March 11, 2021 - Message from the Circuit Court Regarding Resumption of Jury Trials on April 26, 2021

Jury trials in Montgomery County Circuit Court are scheduled to resume on Monday, April 26, 2021, after a hiatus of more than five months. Because of the continuance of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) social distancing guidelines, it will be necessary to limit the number of persons summoned for jury duty on a daily basis. As a result, in the initial stages the number of juries that can be selected on any given day will likely not exceed two. During the first two weeks, it is anticipated that only one jury will be selected per day. Multi-defendant criminal cases will likely not be accommodated for the first month of the new jury system. Please read the following information carefully, and to its conclusion, as it governs important procedures for the conduct of jury trials for the immediate future.

JURY TRIAL STATUS CONFERENCES – Effective April 21, 2021, the present jury trial status conference system in criminal cases will terminate, as jury trials will resume.

ALL ACTIVE JUDGE PLEA POLICY – Effective April 23, the policy permitting any active judge to hear a criminal plea by agreement of the parties will terminate. It is not anticipated that this policy will be renewed, unless another jury trial suspension occurs. The only plea-eligible judges after April 23 will be those in the then-current criminal rotation, the Administrative Judge, and resolution conference judges. A decision to accept a plea offer must be made on or before the pretrial hearing date.

VENUES - Two venues are presently available for jury selection: the Jury Assembly Room (capacity of 50 socially-distanced prospective jurors), and Courtroom 3E (the ceremonial courtroom, capacity of 50 socially-distanced jurors), both in the North Tower. Jury selection in criminal jury trials involving non-incarcerated defendants and civil jury trials will take place in the Jury Assembly Room. Criminal jury trial selection involving incarcerated defendants will take place in Courtroom 3E. It is anticipated that an additional venue for civil jury selection only will be added in the near future, which will permit a greater number of jury trials per day.

RESOLUTION OF CASES, PENDING MOTIONS AND REQUIRED FILINGS - Because of the daily jury trial limit, the court is reinstituting policies to ensure that cases requiring consideration by a jury be heard as soon as possible, and cases that can be resolved without the necessity of a jury are concluded in advance of the scheduled jury trial date. The Circuit Court bench needs the cooperation of the bar to make sure that our limited jury trial resources are used efficiently.

To that end, the parties in both civil and criminal jury trials can expect to hear from an active judge at least ten days before the scheduled trial regarding possibilities for resolution of their particular case. Judges may set status hearings on the record, or informally, at their option. All pending motions must be resolved at least one week before the trial date; they will not be heard on the day of the trial, and no exceptions will be permitted. It will be counsel’s responsibility to ensure that motions are filed and heard in advance of the trial. Proposed voir dire and jury instructions must also be filed at least one week before the trial, and any paper exhibits to be offered by a party must be photocopied and provided for the court, opposing counsel, and jurors on the first day of the trial.

PRIORITIZING CASES - In criminal cases, if a plea memo is not filed at least seven days before the scheduled trial date, the court will assume the case is in trial posture and summon a jury panel. Where several cases are in trial posture for the same day, counsel will be notified several days before the trial as to whether they can expect to go to trial on the scheduled date. Multiple cases will be scheduled in case one or more of the cases results in a settlement, plea or nolle pros on the day of trial. In prioritizing cases, the court will consider, among other things, whether the case is criminal or civil; the age of the case; whether the defendant is incarcerated; any potential Hicks issues; whether there are expert witnesses; whether the witnesses are mainly police officers or involve civilians; and the number of jurors that may be required.

JURY SELECTION – In most cases a senior judge will conduct voir dire on the day of trial. Counsel can expect to hear from the senior judge several days before the scheduled trial date, who will again inquire as to whether settlement or plea is possible. If not, the senior judge will make sure that voir dire questions and jury instructions have been submitted.

WEARING OF MASKS - Under Judge Barbera’s most recent order, all persons participating in the trial must wear masks. Any witness while testifying may be ordered to wear a disposable mask, a clear mask, or a personal barrier shield mask for a limited duration to ensure that the participant can be heard or observed.

The court is anticipating that the bar will do all it can to ensure the smooth functioning of these new policies, just as it has throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and looks forward to refining the process where necessary as we move forward. Cooperation between the bar and bench is vital to the maintenance of our jury trial system under the present health emergency. The court will reevalulate this new system periodically, and make necessary adjustments where appropriate. For a comprehensive overview of the jury trial processes, please consult the court website at and click the link to Resumption of Jury Operations.

Robert A. Greenberg
Administrative Judge