The Weekly Writ: Maryland Legal News You Can Use for November 23, 2020

Today on November 23, 2020, read about:

Of course, if these or any other legal questions are impacting you and your family, then don't hesitate to reach out to JC Law for your free initial consultation with one of our trained domestic, criminal, or civil litigation attorneys.

Most Maryland Covid-19 Deaths Since June Sparks More Restrictions -- But No Lockdown (Yet)

What's Going On:

On November 17, Maryland lost another 26 victims to the Covid-19 pandemic -- the most in a single day since June, according to a recent press conference by Governor Larry Hogan.

Consequently, there are new (legal) restrictions put in place to help curb the spread of Covid-19 prior to possible super spreader events for Thanksgiving, including:

  • All bars and restaurants to close between 10 PM and 6 AM, except for carryout and delivery.
  • EVERY business, including retailers, grocery stores, restaurants, and even religious facilities may only operate at 50% indoor capacity.
  • No fans are permitted to spectate in-person at any sporting events, including professional & student stadiums, racing tracks, and other venues.
  • No one may visit either hospital patients or nursing homes, except for "compassionate care." If they do visit, then they may require a recent negative coronavirus test. For hospital visits, visitors will only be admitted if the patient is giving birth, dying, are minors, or have disabilities.
  • Hospitals have been encouraged -- but not required -- to suspend or reschedule elective surgeries.
  • The mask wearing mandate is still in full effect, and violations may result in a $5,000 fine and/or a year in jail.

All of the new restrictions do not, however, ban indoor gatherings of family members during the Thanksgiving holiday, or otherwise restrict everyone to a renewed stay-at-home order.

Why This Matters To You:

While it's not illegal to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family, both state and federal officials urge caution.
Without proper protections in place, we may be trading an in-person celebration now with a lockdown over New Years.

Obey all restrictions -- even as they change on a weekly basis! -- and please stay safe out there. We'll keep you informed as best we can with the latest updates on the Covid-19 restrictions on both the state and federal levels.

More About Maryland Court System Matters

Federal Judge Dismisses Maryland Lawsuit Against Covid-19 Restrictions, Does Not Find Any Violation of Constitutional Rights

What's Going On:

Judge Catherine Blake in US District Court dismissed a lawsuit last Wednesday, November 18, that claimed Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's previous stay-at-home order and subsequent mandates implemented to stop the spread of Covid-19 infringed on Marylanders' rights, including the First Amendment's right to assemble.

In her decision, Judge Blake wrote that "the court cannot conclude that Governor Hogan’s measures are arbitrary or unreasonable, or that they plainly violate any of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights."

The lawsuit was brought by Delegate Dan Cox, representative of Carroll and Frederick counties, for both himself and others, including an anti-restrictions group called "Reopen Maryland."

Why This Matters to You:

This and similar lawsuits have been repeatedly knocked down in local, state, and federal courts attempting to argue that the emergency pandemic mandates issued by Gov. Hogan and other governors are unconstitutional or otherwise illegal.

Part of the legal issue seems to revolve around the timing and purpose of the mandates -- issued using emergency powers authorized during the pandemic -- as well as the argument that such mandates interfere with someone's legal rights.

It has long been established in courts that an individual's personal rights can stop where they may infringe on the rights of another.

For example, it's illegal to not stop at a stop sign because failure to do so may cause harm to another citizen. Your choice to not stop at the sign may impact someone else, and thus may be regulated by the government.

Similarly, courts seem to be ruling that an individual's choice to wear a mask or not can be suspended because their failure to do so may infect another citizen. So, laws and mandates aimed at specifically stopping community spread of the virus may, in fact, be constitutional -- even as they place previously unheard of restrictions on the community.

While people may personally dislike or otherwise disagree with the court system, their rulings in Maryland and across the country appear remarkably consistent. We generally do not expect them to rule differently in the near future, even if additional restrictions are implemented for the short-term.

More About the Appeal Process

Maryland Legal Aid Suffers Internal Turmoil and Turnover

What's Going On:

According to the Baltimore Sun, the Maryland Legal Aid Workers Union, which represents staff-level employees at the largest provider of free legal services in the state, sent notice last week on Monday, November 16, to the organization's executive team that its members have lost confidence in leadership following unexplained firings of four managing attorneys this summer.

The pandemic forced Maryland Legal Aid to move to a remote work plan this spring. Then, over the summer, 11 office managers signed a letter to the executive team pushing back on plans to make staffers return to work at their offices in Anne Arundel county, asking for more flexibility in remote work options for employees with health issues or childcare needs.

A week after the letter, four of the eleven were fired without explanation. Those four just happened to be publicly vocal about their pushback against leadership's plan to return to the office.

In a follow up, the Baltimore Sun later reported that longtime director of the Wilhelm Joseph will be retiring... in what we're sure is a completely unrelated news.

Why This Matters to You:

Maryland Legal Aid does amazing work for so many Marylanders, and we're sad to hear there's trouble in their offices. We hope that their employees feel safe and supported by their management as we all continue to muddle through with urgent matters despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you or someone you know is currently represented by legal counsel based out of the Maryland Legal Aid offices, then it may be a good time to check in and make sure your case hasn't been lost in the internal politicking.

This situation may also be a good opportunity for you or a loved one to re-examine their reputation and invest in a paid, rather than pro bono, option.

Schedule a Free Initial Consultation

Should Maryland Reinstate Cameras in Courtrooms?

What's Going On:

An opinion in the Capital Gazette last week suggested that due to the pandemic, Maryland courts may want to reconsider their current 40-year ban on any sort of camera or recording device in their courtrooms.

With renewed restrictions on in-person activities -- including the postponement of many jury trials, as we reported last week -- cameras may help the courts continue to run efficiently despite the pandemic.

Why This Matters to You:

If Maryland courts do indeed rescind their ban on cameras in courtrooms, then it may mean less of a backup in the court dockets.

On the other hand, technical glitches may make the camera ban reversal not worth it, especially given a smaller in-person staff at the courts to manage such an important implementation.

The rule is worth reconsidering, then, but maybe not in the middle of a global crisis. What's your take on it?

More About Maryland Court System Matters

Your Favorite Holiday Tradition Has Returned: "Click It or Ticket It" Program Restarted on Nov. 16

What's Going On:

Everyone just loves extra traffic enforcement, right? Maryland's annual "Click It or Ticket" program for seatbelt and drunk driving enforcement officially began again on November 16 and will continue through the end of the month.

David McBain, captain of the traffic division of the Montgomery County Police, told reporters, "Since the pandemic began, we have seen a ‘triple threat’ of excessive speeds, impaired driving and not wearing a seat belt that have resulted in people losing their lives on our roads."

Why This Matters to You:

If you choose to go out this holiday season, then make sure you've got a designated driver -- and that you buckle up despite the turkey bloat.

Maryland law enforcement is serious when it comes to these sort of traffic drives, and the pandemic means fewer cars on the road, making it easier to spot and pull over possible infractions.

Stay safe out there, folks!

Learn More About DUI Penalties

Glenarden Mayor Indicted by Prince George's Jury for Private Recordings

What's Going On:

Maryland state prosecutors announced last week that the current mayor of Glenarden was indicted -- that is, formally accused of serious charges -- by a Prince George's county grand jury for allegedly breaking Maryland's Wiretap Statute in addition to general misconduct while in office.

His arraignment -- an official court hearing in which the charges will be formally read and the judge will ask how he pleads -- is currently scheduled for December 18, 2020.

Why This Matters to You:

Basically, Maryland law states that you may not secretly record someone without their permission. (That's why you get a lot of automatic notifications that "This call may be recorded for quality assurance" when you call into a hotline.)

The indictment claims that the mayor recorded conversations between himself and unknowing participants on his Apple computer in his office, while he was carrying out official mayoral duties.

Such charges are extremely serious, possibly resulting in up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Of course, that's the maximum sentence for a conviction. And, any charges can be defended in a court trial. For example, can prosecution prove that the recordings were made without due warning or notice? Can they prove that the recordings are actually valid? Was the evidence even collected legally?

More On Common Secret Recording Charges

Frederick Man Indicted for Allegedly Threatening the President-Elect

What's Going On:

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted a 42-year-old Frederick man with threatening the president-elect Joe Biden and vice president-elect Kamala Harris, as well as any of their supporters.

A doorbell camera captured what looks like the indicted defendant dropping off a letter back in October containing the threats, at a Maryland house that had Democratic campaign signs in the yard.

The letter contained "warnings" to supporters of the elected presidential ticket, saying they "will be targeted."

The Maryland man is currently being held without bail waiting for his arraignment.

Why This Matters to You:

The indictment demonstrates exactly how seriously the federal government takes threats against elected officials -- over something as simple as a vague letter in a random mailbox.

Even if someone meant it as a joke or to vent frustrations against an election that didn't elect their desired candidate, letters and threats like these can get folks into legal hot water very quickly.

After all, the incident happened in early October, and a suspect has already been indicted a month and a half later.

Also, a reminder about how bail works: Those accused of crimes don't automatically get bail. Judges are more likely to grant bail if they don't think the person accused of the charges will be a danger to the community between now and when their hearing is scheduled.

(They also refuse bail if they think the defendant may be a flight risk, such as in Jeffrey Epstein's case earlier this year.)

Clearly, this judge took the alleged threats in the letter seriously enough to not permit the defendant to wander about freely.

More About Threats & Assault Charges

Rosie Recovered! Stolen Pup Returned to Baltimore Owner

What's Going On:

A Baltimore man pleaded on social media for the return of his Boston terrier Rosie, after the dog and a gaming console were stolen after a house burglary on November 11.

With the help of a $2,500 reward and viral public awareness, Rosie returned home last week, safe and sound, after a woman who bought the dog off the street recognized photos of the lost pup as her new pet.

Why This Matters to You:

First of all, we could all use a feel-good story about a dog and its owner getting reunited. Hooray for Rosie!

Second, the incident is a real-world example of possible burglary and theft charges.

Dogs and other family pets are legally considered property. So, Rosie's theft might be treated similarly to the theft of the gaming console.

Depending on the exact circumstances, a suspect could be charged with:

  • Breaking and entering, aka "fourth degree burglary," since the suspect broke into someone's property with the intent to steal; or
  • Third-degree burglary, since the victim's actual house was involved; or
  • Petty or misdemeanor theft, depending on how much Rosie the terrier is worth as "property" and how much the gaming console is worth. Under $100, it might be a petty theft. Over $100 (and under $1,000), it might be a misdemeanor theft.

Depending on the circumstances, defendants convicted in Rosie's theft case could wind up with a criminal record, years in jail, and hundreds in fines.

More About Burglary Charges