POLICY FOR POSTPONEMENTS OR MODIFICATIONS OF FAMILY LAW SCHEDULING ORDERS IN THE CIRCUIT COURT FOR BALTIMORE COUNTY
(Notice 1.1; Generated 12-1-14; Eff. 1-2-15)
This Notice is intended to address scheduling and postponement of Family Division cases in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, effective January 2, 2015.
1. Postponement Policy
It is the policy of this Court to resolve family law disputes without unnecessary delay or undue waste of the time and other resources of the Court, the litigants, and other case participants. Although it may be necessary or appropriate to postpone a hearing or court event, such requests should be based upon a showing of good cause, and should be done well in advance of any scheduled court deadline or event. Requests for postponement are particularly disfavored on the day of a hearing or trial. The Court also views with disfavor and request for postponement or for modification of a scheduling order that delays the resolution of the matter beyond twelve months from the date of filing, which is the case time standard that applies to domestic proceedings other than complaints for limited divorce.
2. Form of Request
The date of a Scheduling Conference, a Show Cause or motions hearing, or a mediation may be reset by conference call between the parties and the Court. If the party requesting the change is unable to arrange a conference call with all necessary parties or counsel, or obtain agreement on a new proposed date, the request must then be made in writing and directed to the Civil Assignment Clerk to process. All such requests must be made no later than seven days prior to the scheduled event. Conference calls to re-schedule a Scheduling Conference shall be directed to the DCM office at 410-887-2509; for Show Cause or motions hearings shall be directed to Civil Assignment at 410-887-2660; and for Mediation shall be directed to the Family Services Office at 410-887-6570.
All other requests for modification of a scheduling order or for postponement of a settlement conference, hearing or trial shall be in writing. If all parties consent to the modification or postponement, the request can be in letter format. If the request is opposed, or if the party making the request is unable, despite reasonable effort, to ascertain the position of another party or counsel, the request should be made by motion. All requests must set forth the basis for the modification or postponement, the position of other parties or their counsel, and provide suggested new scheduling dates. If a contested request is made less than three weeks before a scheduled hearing or trial, it should be accompanied by an appropriate motion to shorten time.
3. “Good Cause” Requirement
The following are examples that are usually considered “good cause” for postponement:
- Trial date conflict: The first case set takes precedence.
- Serious illness of, or death in the family of, a party, counsel, or necessary witness;
- Vacation(s) scheduled prior to any assigned trial or hearing date; Requests for postponement must be made within ten (10) calendar days of notification of the scheduled event;
- Counsel is in trial in another matter that carries over to cause a conflict with the Baltimore County date.
- A party did not receive notice of the hearing or trial, through no fault of the party or their counsel.
- Facts or circumstances arising or becoming apparent too late in the proceedings to be corrected in advance of the hearing, and which, in the view of the Court, would likely cause undue hardship or a possible miscarriage of justice if the hearing or trial proceeded as scheduled.
The following are generally NOT “good cause” for postponement:
- Vacations(s) scheduled after establishing a trial or motion date;
- Consent of counsel without compelling reason or a substantive basis;
- The matter has not previously been postponed;
- Any matter known or which should have been known when the trial date became firm;
- New counsel has entered an appearance or a party wishes to change counsel;
- Discovery is incomplete or was just provided;
- A party wishes to conduct further investigation;
- A party or counsel is unprepared to try to case for reasons including, but not limited to, the party’s failure to cooperate with or maintain necessary contact with counsel.
3. Rulings on Requests to Modify Scheduling Orders or to Postpone
Advance requests to postpone hearings scheduled before a Master will be referred to Master Richard Gilbert for ruling. Any party or attorney seeking review of the decision by Master Gilbert may request reconsideration in writing, which will be referred to the Family Division Coordinating Judge, and if that judge is not available, the matter will be referred to the Administrative Judge for final review.
Requests to postpone hearings before a Master that are made on the day of trial are referred to the Administrative Judge for ruling. Parties and/or counsel should report to the assigned courtroom and advise the Master of the postponement request. The Master will then notify the Administrative Judge and refer the parties and counsel to the appropriate courtroom for a hearing on the postponement request.
Requests for postponement or modification of scheduled dates in cases that are specially assigned shall be referred to the assigned judge. New dates will be set on the assigned judge’s calendar and confirmed with the Assignment Office, regardless of whether the re-set date is during a period when the assigned judge is in a Family Division rotation.
Advance requests for all other scheduling changes shall be referred to the Administrative Judge for ruling. Requests filed within ten days of a hearing or trial are processed through the Central Assignment office. All other requests are processed through the Civil Assignment office.
Requests for postponement made on the date of a hearing or trial shall be heard on the record before the assigned judge. Postponements on the date of trial are strongly disfavored, and should only be granted upon a compelling showing of good cause or other special circumstance. If a case is postponed, parties and counsel shall be directed to the Civil Assignment office to select an agreed re-set date.
4. Motions to Strike Appearance: Absent a showing of some compelling circumstance, a Motion to Strike Appearance of Counsel will not be granted within 14 day period before an assigned settlement conference or hearing date unless accompanied by the entry of appearance of another attorney. Similarly, a Motion to Strike Appearance of Counsel will ordinarily not be granted during a period when counsel is responsible to submit a draft Order to the Court based upon a prior hearing or ruling. Counsel are reminded that, pursuant to Rule 2-132(b) the Court “may deny the motion if withdrawal of the appearance would cause unduly delay, prejudice or injustice.”
Hon. Kathleen Gallogly Cox
Circuit and County Administrative Judge
Hon. Timothy J. Martin.
Family Division Coordinating Judge
NOTICE TO THE FAMILY LAW BAR
CHANGES IN FAMILY LAW CASE PROCESSING
Judge Martin’s leadership in our Family Division has been tremendous. I know I speak for the rest of our Bench, and for the Bar, in thanking him for all he has done in this area. Although he must retire in March, I’m certain he will continue to assist in this arena. I’m pleased to announce that Judge Ruth Jakubowski will assume the responsibility as Lead Judge for the Family Division starting in January. She brings a wealth of experience in this area, and will be a great successor to Judge Martin.
Over the past year, Judge Martin has conducted a series of “Town Hall” meetings to solicit input from the Bar concerning the manner in which we process family law cases. Our objective has been to analyze our internal processes in the hopes that we can improve the timeliness of cases assessment and screening services, increase opportunities for mediation and ADR, reduce the time it takes to obtain a final merits hearing, and decrease or eliminate trial postponements.
We greatly appreciate the input we have received from the Family Law Bar. In addition to your input, a Family Division Case Processing Committee, which included representation from the Family Law Bar, has been meeting regularly to look at these same concerns.
One theme that has run through all of our discussions is the need to have meaningful time standards and deadlines, and for the Court to schedule hearings and trials within those standards with greater assurance that cases will be heard when scheduled. We have made significant strides in decreasing postponements and delays within the past year, but there is still room to improve. In order to achieve our objectives, we need to maximize the opportunities that exist to settle or narrow contested issues in cases that are set for trial. And in order for settlement hearings to be effective, parties and counsel must have completed discovery prior to the Settlement Conference.
As we look to 2015, the Circuit Court plans to implement the following changes:
- Starting in March 2015, Settlement Court will expand to five days a week, with Family Law cases heard on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
- The matters referred to Settlement Court will be expanded to include modifications of custody, alimony and child support.
- We are creating a new Complex Domestic Case Track for divorce cases that involve complex marital property or alimony. This Track is intended for cases with significant contested issues including business valuation, asset tracing, extant property, and factually complex alimony disputes. While these cases will not necessarily be specially set, they will have a follow up conference with the Lead Family Division Judge to tailor a schedule to address discovery and possible resolution of specific disputes in the case, in an effort to streamline or narrow issues before the Settlement Conference or trial.
- Effective January 1, 2015, Scheduling Order changes and postponements of hearings and trials must be filed in accordance with the Policy for Postponements or Modifications of Family Law Scheduling Orders, which is posted on the Baltimore County Circuit Court website. (Copy attached).
- Effective January 1, 2015, upon arrival in Settlement Court, parties and counsel will set a tentative agreed date for a merits hearing before meeting with a settlement judge. If the case is not resolved in Settlement Court, that trial date will be finalized, and can only be postponed by the Administrative Judge. Any follow up Settlement Conference must be set prior to that date.
- Effective March 1, 2015, in advance of any Settlement Conference, counsel and unrepresented parties are required to prepare and exchange initial drafts of a Maryland Rule 9-207 Joint Statement of Parties Concerning Marital and Non-Marital Property in all cases with contested issues involving marital property. Although a finalized Joint Statement is not required at the Settlement Conference, the initial drafts must be provided to the settlement judge for use in the Settlement Conference.
- Effective March 1, 2015, in advance of any Settlement Conference, counsel and unrepresented parties are required to prepare and exchange proposed Child Support Guidelines in all cases with contested child support issues. The draft guidelines must be provided to the settlement judge for use in the Settlement Conference.
We recognize and will continue to accommodate the need for flexibility in cases. In implementing these new policies, it is not our intent to discourage the collegial atmosphere that exists within the Family Law Bar. Joint requests for schedule modifications where parties have engaged in diligent efforts to advance a case have been and will continue to be granted. Unforeseen circumstances that warrant a change in a schedule will continue to be accommodated. The expectation will be that cases are in a posture to be settled by the time of the Settlement Conference, and a firm trial date will be set if the case is not settled at that Conference. Our hope is that these changes will increase the effectiveness of the Settlement Conference, and reduce the numbers of cases set for trial, thereby increasing the reliability of the trial dates we establish.
Honorable Kathleen Cox
Circuit and County Administrative Judge