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Law Day Series – District Court v. Circuit Court

Posted by Chi Song on June 5, 2015

In connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.

At the Law Library, library users are often confused as to whether they should be in Circuit Court (this is where the Law Library is located) or District Court. As both courts are trial courts in the Maryland Court System, this confusion is understandable.

So, where should you be? District Court or Circuit Court? The answer depends on your matter.

The District Courts are the trial courts with jurisdiction over landlord-tenant cases, replevin (return of property), detinue (return of property or its value), motor vehicle violations/traffic citations, and certain criminal matters (misdemeanors and certain felonies). The court has exclusive jurisdiction for claims under $5,000. However, the District Courts share jurisdiction with the Circuit Courts for claims above $5,000 but less than $30,000. There is also shared jurisdiction for certain criminal cases.Also, there are no jury trials in District Court. The majority of people will find themselves dealing with the District Court.

The Circuit Courts are the trial courts for generally more serious criminal cases and major civil cases. Trials can be decided by jury or by a judge in the Circuit Court. The jurisdiction of the Circuit Court is broader than that of the District Court and includes family law cases (e.g.,divorce, custody), civil matters for claims above $30,000 and juvenile matters.

Here are some helpful resources for matters.

Note that the Maryland District Court is distinct and separate from the United States District Court for the District of Maryland. If you are representing yourself in the United States District Court, you may find their Self-Help webpage helpful. Note that the United States District Court is part of the federal judicial system, not the Maryland state judicial system.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact the Law Library

Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which will provide an overview of primary legal sources in Maryland.

 

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Law Day Series – Orphans’ Court? I’m not an orphan!

Posted by Chi Song on May 8, 2015

In connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts this month that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.

Orphans’ Court” often confuses people because its name is a shortened version of the historic London Court for Widows and Orphans, but the court is not for orphans! Instead, the 24 Orphans’ Courts (one in each Maryland county and the City of Baltimore) are specialized courts that deal with matters of probate, the administration of estates (note that not every estate will involve the court), and the guardianship of minors. Three Orphans’ Court judges sit in each county, except Harford County and Montgomery County, where Circuit Court judges sit as Orphan’s Court Judges.

The State of Maryland has two types of probate: administrative and judicial probate. The Orphans’ Court deals with judicial probate, which is usually contested wills. (Administrative probate is usually for uncontested wills and is handled by the Office of the Register of Wills.) Judicial probate is generally the process and administration of an estate through the court system. To learn more about estate administration and probate in Maryland, check out the Maryland People’s Law Library articles on this topic.

If you want to learn more about what the Orphans’ Court does, check out the Frequently Asked Questions section on the Orphans’ Court webpage. In addition, you can find a directory of Orphans’ Court judges here.

Note that the Orphans’ Court is separate from the Office of the Register of Wills that, among other responsibilities, handles the administrative probate process (as opposed to the judicial process through the Orphans’ Court). To learn more about the Office of the Register of Wills, check out their website.

Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which will provide a detailed comparison between the District Court and the Circuit Court!

 

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Law Day Series – The Maryland Court System

Posted by Chi Song on May 5, 2015

In connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts this month that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.

The Maryland court system has four levels.

  • Two trial courts – District Court (34 locations) and Circuit Court (24 locations)
  • Two appellate courts – Court of Special Appeals and Court of Appeals

The District Courts are the trial courts where most Marylanders interact with the Maryland Court System. There are 34 District Court locations statewide with jurisdiction over various matters such as landlord-tenant cases, motor vehicle violations, and certain criminal matters. The court has exclusive jurisdiction for claims under $5,000, but shares jurisdiction for claims above $5,000 but less than $30,000 with the Circuit Court. There is also shared jurisdiction with the Circuit Court for certain criminal cases. Judges, not juries, make all of the District Court decisions because there are no jury trials in District Court. You can learn more about the District Court here.

The Circuit Courts are the trial courts for generally more serious criminal cases and major civil cases. Trials can be decided by jury or by a judge in the Circuit Court. The types of cases heard in Circuit Court include family law cases (e.g., divorce, custody), civil matters for claims above $30,000 and juvenile matters. There are 24 circuit court locations, one in each county in Maryland and the City of Baltimore. The Circuit Courts are organized into eight judicial circuits. The Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County, which is where the Law Library is located, is part of the 5th Circuit. You can learn more about the Circuit Courts here.

The Court of Special Appeals is the second highest court in Maryland and the intermediate appellate court. This means that the Court of Special Appeals hears any prior reviewable judgment, decree, order or other action of the District Court, Circuit Court and Orphans’ Court. Unlike the District Courts and the Circuit Courts, there is only one Court of Special Appeals, which is located in Annapolis, Maryland. The Court of Special Appeals has fifteen judges who normally decide cases in panels of three, but, in certain situations, all fifteen judges will decide a single case (sit en banc). You can learn more about the Court of Special Appeals here.

The Court of Appeals is the highest court in Maryland (often called the Supreme Court in other states and in the Federal court system). The seven judges who sit on the Court of Appeals review and select the cases that they will hear, and the seven judges hear the cases together. This selection process by the Court of Appeals means that the court does not automatically hear every case that is reviewable. Instead, the court generally selects those cases that have legal significance for the state. However, the Court of Appeals must hear all reviewable cases involving the death penalty, legislative redistricting, removal of certain officers, and certifications of questions of law. The Court of Appeals hears oral arguments in cases four days per month from September through June of each year. You can see their calendar here. Similar to the Court of Special Appeals, there is only one Court of Appeals, which is located in Annapolis, Maryland. You can learn more about the Court of Appeals here.

Note that the Federal courts located in Maryland are not part of the Maryland court system. If you want to learn more about the Federal courts in Maryland, check out the U.S. Courts’ website. The key difference between the Federal courts and the Maryland courts is that the Federal courts are authorized by the U.S. Constitution and mainly deal with federal laws (e.g., the laws that have been enacted by the U.S. Congress) whereas the Maryland courts are authorized by the Maryland Constitution and mainly deal with state and local laws.

To learn more, the Maryland Judiciary provides a detailed description of the Maryland court system at http://www.courts.state.md.us/publications/pdfs/mdjudicialsystem.pdf (en Español). In addition, you can check out these videos.

Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which provide information about the Maryland Orphans’ Court.

 

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Law Day Series – Today is Law Day!

Posted by Chi Song on May 1, 2015

LawDay_FINAL_Logo-NEWIn connection with the Law Library’s celebration of Law Day, we will be publishing a series of eight posts this month that focus on the basics of the Maryland court system and legal research.

What is Law Day? Each year, on May 1st, we celebrate the rule of law and the role of the law and legal processes, including the court system, in promoting democracy and freedom through our celebration of Law Day. First envisioned by the American Bar Association (ABA)’s then-president, Charles S. Rhyne, in 1957, National Law Day was established as a day of national dedication to the principles of government under law by former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1958, and May 1st was designated as the official date of celebration by a joint resolution of Congress in 1961.

2015 Theme. This year’s theme is “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law”. The Magna Carta (the “Great Charter”), issued 800 years ago by King John of England at Runnymede, a meadow located along the River Thames near modern day Windsor, England, has withstood the test of time and continues to symbolize liberty and the rule of law, especially the ideal that no one, not even a king, is above the rule of law. While the Magna Carta addresses the specific issues faced by King John and the English barons from the thirteenth century, its underlying principles of liberty and the rule of law for all people remains as an inspiration for freedom and liberty.

If you’re interested in learning more about Law Day and this year’s theme, check out the ABA’s 2015 Law Day page!

For those you interested in seeing the Magna Carta in person, check out this information about the traveling exhibit of Lincoln Cathedral’s 1215 manuscript of the Magna Carta at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_services/law_library_congress/magna_carta.html.


Stay tuned for the next post in our Law Day Series, which will provide an overview of the Maryland Court System.

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