The Maryland Judiciary
CHHS Writes, Tests Plans to Help Statewide Court System Deliver Essential Services During Emergencies
The Maryland Judiciary contracted with CHHS in October 2006 to develop Continuity of Operations (COOP) plans for all District and Circuit Courts in Maryland, as well as for the Court of Appeals, the Court of Special Appeals, the Administrative Office of the Courts, and District Court Headquarters.
The Judiciary’s COOP plans provide a framework for the Maryland Courts to resume temporary operation of essential court functions within 12 hours following a natural or man-made emergency and to continue performing these functions for two weeks following activation of the COOP plan. The plans cover key elements for the continued operation of the courts, including essential functions and personnel; orders of succession; vital records and equipment; alternate facilities; communications; and testing and updating of the plans’ content.
As a corollary to the creation of the COOP plans, CHHS created the Maryland Public Health Emergency Bench Book (Bench Book). The Bench Book is intended to serve as an important reference for Maryland judges dealing with the multitude of complex legal issues that can arise during a public health emergency, and contains sections covering significant procedural and substantive law concerning emergency powers; isolation and quarantine; compelled medical testing and treatment; and liability of health care providers and volunteers during a public health emergency, among others.
Through an extensive process of interviewing key personnel in each jurisdiction and gathering pertinent information regarding policies, procedures, personnel, vital equipment, vital records, and communications, CHHS drafted county-specific COOP plans for each office in all of the District and Circuit Courts in Maryland, as well as for both appellate courts and all judicial administrative offices. These COOP plans were delivered to each jurisdiction in September/October 2008, and tabletop exercises were held at that time in each county and in Baltimore City in order to test the plans and allow CHHS to receive feedback from court personnel and stakeholders regarding the plans’ content and format so that recommendations regarding appropriate plan revisions could be provided to the Maryland Judiciary.
Approximately six months later, after the Maryland Courts were given a reasonable amount of time to become familiar with the COOP plans’ policies and procedures and to begin implementing them in their jurisdictions, the Court COOP team embarked on a second round of tabletop exercises to further test the Maryland Judiciary’s COOP plans. In doing so, CHHS was able to identify key areas of the plans that might require additional focus by the Judiciary in the future, as well as provide recommendations regarding steps that the District and Circuit Courts in each county can take to fully implement the COOP plans’ policies and procedures in order to ensure that the courts continue to serve the needs of Maryland’s citizens during an emergency.
In conjunction with the COOP project, CHHS also coordinated with several members of the Maryland Judiciary to tailor the Bench Book’s format and content to the needs of Maryland’s judges, and a final draft of the Bench Book was submitted to the Judiciary for review in March 2009. As an additional mechanism for evaluating the Bench Book’s effectiveness as a reference tool, mock hearings were held in every county to test the Bench Book’s ease of use and content selection. During each mock hearing, a hypothetical legal issue was presented, with mock hearing players using a fictitious case file and reference material available in the Bench Book to prepare for and present arguments to a Circuit Court judge presiding over the hearing. Mock hearing topics covered such legal issues as isolation, quarantine, compelled medical testing and treatment, and the State’s use of private property during an emergency. Feedback provided from mock hearing players and observers allowed CHHS to make recommendations regarding suggested revisions to the Bench Book’s content and format to ensure that it is a valuable, easy-to-use tool for Maryland’s judges during a real-life emergency.
The Maryland Judiciary includes the District and Circuit Courts in each county in Maryland, as well as Baltimore City; the Court of Special Appeals, which serves as Maryland’s intermediate appellate court; and the Court of Appeals, which is the state’s highest court. Both the Administrative Office of the Courts and District Court Headquarters, located in Annapolis, provide administrative services to the Maryland Judiciary, including personnel administration, preparation and administration of the Judiciary’s budget, planning and research functions, and information technology services. Through this network of trial and appellate courts, the Maryland Judiciary serves the citizens of Maryland by handling judicial proceedings for both minor and serious criminal offenses, civil claims, family law cases, landlord-tenant disputes, and a variety of other legal actions.