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Courts Open Up In Post-Pandemic Era With New Rules Across Maine

Biddeford District Court

Courts across Maine have been given wide discretion to open up and handle the huge backlog of cases - and law enforcement agencies are going to be helping to schedule cases.

Mask requirements will still be in place for all people going to a court, unless given express authority to remove it by a judicial officer. This requirement is regardless of vaccination status.

The new arrangements, released on June 1, give individual courts wide discretion in how to conduct hearings - whether remotely or in person. The rules, published by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, will end filing of motions by email on June 7, and instead force defense attorneys and prosecutors to file motions the old fashioned way - by postal mail. A system of filing electronically has yet to be implemented state-wide.

Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an increase of more than 50% in the number of outstanding cases. The number of rostered defense attorneys available to take court-appointments for defendants unable to afford a lawyer has also fallen in that time.

One of the rules that holds prosecutors to a higher standard requires that complaints - with police reports and supporting documentation - must be filed 14 days before an arraignment for someone not in custody and appearing on a summons. If the filing is late, the clerks are instructed to reject it and set a new arraignment date.

Law enforcement agencies are now also being roped into the business of helping to schedule cases. Each law enforcement agency will be given a set number of cases for each arraignment date and must assign summonses to that date until the number is reached, monitor that themselves, and then schedule to a new date when it is. The tables for each allocation will be posted online.

The Pandemic Management Order, PMO-SJC-1, also eradicates a host of others dealing with remote proceedings, quarantine procedures, screening questions upon entry into a court building, how child protection cases are handled, and the deadlines for attorneys to get continuing legal education credits that have to be taken to allow a lawyer to keep their bar license.

Other committees and boards set up by the Supreme Judicial Court - such as the committee that establishes court rules - is still permitted to meet remotely rather than in person.


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