On March 18, 2020, to help curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), the Maine Supreme Judicial Court took the extraordinary step of immediately cancelling until May 1, 2020, both scheduling and hearing the following types of cases:
- Evictions and landlord/tenant disputes
- Small claims
- Medical malpractice proceedings including medical review panel hearings
- Family matters, except for video mediations by agreement.
- Juvenile matters (unless the juvenile is being detained)
- Criminal matters (unless a defendant is in-custody)
- Civil jury trials
- All other nonjury civil matters including civil violations
- All actions to recover personal property
- All traffic tickets
- Grand Jury proceedings
Currently, the only civil cases currently being heard are:
- Protection from abuse requests and hearings
- Protection from harassment requests and hearings
- Child protection petitions and hearings
- Mental health requests and hearings
- Emergency guardianships
- Hearings granted on motion
Unless a case falls within one of the six listed categories, there must be “urgent and compelling reasons” for the court to hold the trial or hearing before May 1, 2020.
Further complicating this mandate is the recently announced reduction in courthouse hours and the number of individuals allowed inside courthouses. For example, during the week of March 23, most courts throughout Maine are scheduled to be open for a half day only. Some courts, including York County Superior Court, are closed to the public entirely that week. Moreover, in reducing the number of individuals in courthouses, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court has stated that these changes “will affect the scheduling and hearing of cases”. The trial court website encourages all individuals who have any business with the court to call to ensure that they are open, as the impact of this disease is constantly changing. Litigants in the handful of cases being heard should expect delays in their case being heard and a truncated court schedule.
While these and other mandated changes are necessary to curb the spread of the virus, they have also had a significant impact on pending cases, which are still subject to existing Scheduling Orders and require timely attention to deadlines, discovery and motion practice. Now, more than ever, written discovery, video conference depositions, and virtual mediations and arbitrations have heightened importance and prominence in the litigation process. Virtual or telephonic mediations are becoming almost routine. The mechanics and legal issues associated with video depositions are not stopping discovery in cases which are near a discovery deadline. For example, if a court reporter and a witness are in the same location, swearing in the witness is not an issue, but if that is not possible, must a notary must be brought in to swear the witness in? Even eliminating the long-standing requirement of physically signing legal documents filed in state court has been discussed among litigators, most of whom are working from home, to bring the state in line with federal courts, which have allowed electronic signatures for decades. The restrictions stemming from COVID-19 have forced a sometimes-antiquated profession to adapt to modern times and circumstances. Litigators are working to find the “new normal” with no sure end to these restrictions in sight. Clients in litigation cases should expect delays in scheduling hearings and trials, but be prepared to confront the new challenges and complexities social distancing has had on the legal profession.
The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice; instead, all information, content, and materials available on this site are for general informational purposes only. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information. This website contains links to other third-party websites. Such links are only for the convenience of the reader, user or browser; Bergen & Parkinson, LLC does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.
Readers of this website should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. No reader, user, or browser of this site should act or refrain from acting on the basis of information on this site without first seeking legal advice from counsel in the relevant jurisdiction. Only your individual attorney can provide assurances that the information contained herein – and your interpretation of it – is applicable or appropriate to your particular situation. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website authors, contributors, contributing law firms, or committee members and their respective employers.