A coalition of people including lawmakers and religious leaders recently filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the Maryland governor’s stay at home order that has been in effect for several weeks. The order required the shuttering of all non-essential businesses and banned gatherings of more than 10 people under all circumstances. Even as talk of reopening the state has picked up steam, there is no firm end in sight and business owners are beyond restless. The lawsuit, which was filed in the Baltimore City federal courthouse, challenges the constitutionality of the governor’s order. This is not the first lawsuit of its kind, as federal judges in numerous other jurisdictions have heard similar motions. There is no timetable as to when a ruling will come down in this particular motion, but the Attorney General’s Office is not backing down. Reports indicate the AG submitted a memo of law citing prior decisions where federal courts have denied similar challenges to state executive orders. Case law is pretty clear that governors have broad authority to act during public health emergencies, and at this point there is nothing in the Maryland order that seems reversible.
By the time a federal judge issues a ruling in this case the motion may be moot, as reports seem to indicate that the number of patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has plateaued in Maryland. Still, we could be weeks away from a reopening that would satisfy the group that filed the motion. The governor and other state officials recently introduced a three-phase plan that would begin with an opening of lower risk business and entities such as small shops, outdoor gym and fitness classes, outdoor recreation facilities, and limited attendance outdoor religious gatherings. Phase two would include medium risk businesses and entities such as indoor gyms, childcare centers, restaurants and bars (with restrictions), indoor religious gatherings and elective medical procedures. The final phase includes high risk activities such as entertainment venues, high capacity bars and restaurants and larger gatherings among people.
Anyone who reads through Maryland’s roadmap to recovery PDF will see that there is no mention of the judiciary or any courthouse guidelines. The judiciary is an independent branch of government, and as such may not legally be able to be controlled by the governor’s office. Thus far, the judiciary has been acting alongside the governor’s office in closing down to the public, but it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks. Maryland state courts are currently only operating on an emergency basis, and are closed to the public. As of now the district and circuit courts around the state are scheduled to open to the public on June 7, but there is still a great deal of uncertainty whether this will actually happen. If the courts do open on the first Monday in June there are also no firm details on what the courthouse experience will look like. It certainly will not be business as usual, with packed courtrooms and long lines at security. Many court clerks are still holding off on resetting cases that have been postponed, as some cases have been rescheduled numerous times due to fluid nature of the reopening date.
The Blog will continue to follow all things related to the legal fallout from the governor’s executive order, and from the judiciary on potential restrictions when the courts reopen. If you are facing state or federal criminal charges in Maryland contact defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime for a free consultation. Benjamin handles traffic crimes such as DUI and fleeing or eluding, and also fights for clients in drug offenses such as possession with intent to distribute and manufacturing. He has extensive experience defending white collar crimes and violent crimes such as assault and robbery as well. Benjamin has represented over 1,000 criminal defendants and has won numerous jury trials in charges ranging from theft to armed robbery and first-degree assault. Contact Benjamin for a free consultation about your case anytime at 410-207-2598.