Journalist's Guide

Orphans’ Court This specialized court has jurisdiction over probate and the administration of estates of the deceased. The Register of Wills, an elected official, is the clerk of the Orphans’ Court. Circuit Court Each county and the City of Baltimore has a Circuit Court. These courts have broad jurisdiction. They handle larger civil cases and cases in which a party is entitled to (and has requested) a jury trial, divorces, and more serious felony criminal cases. Circuit Courts also hear appeals from District Court, from most Orphans’ Courts, and from certain administrative agencies. Most Circuit Court civil cases are settled before trial, and most felony criminal cases are resolved by a defendant pleading guilty to one or more charges as part of an agreement (a “plea bargain”). Not all Circuit Court trials involve juries – some civil and criminal cases are heard by a judge alone (“bench trials”). Family Division (Circuit Court) Family law cases make up about half of all civil lawsuits filed in Maryland each year. The five largest jurisdictions in the state – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as Baltimore City – maintain a separate Family Division within their Circuit Court. Each Circuit Court regardless of size has a family services coordinator who arranges and provides a range of services in family law cases. Family divisions hear juvenile cases and cases of divorce, child custody, alimony, termination of parental rights, involuntary admission to state psychiatric hospitals, and requests to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining medical procedures. In some jurisdictions, magistrate judges will routinely hear juvenile, family and equity matters, and in other jurisdictions these cases are handled in the Circuit Court. The best practice would be to check with the clerk of the respective court. Magistrates are authorized by Maryland law to hear certain cases, as assigned by a Circuit Court. Most typical are family law, child in need of assistance ( CINA cases) and juvenile delinquency cases. Magistrate determinations are made as recommendations for adoption by a judge. If a party disagrees with the Magistrate’s recommendations, written exceptions are filed for consideration by a judge, after opportunity for a hearing. The judge may issue a ruling consistent with their independent consideration of the Magistrate’s recommendations.

Juvenile Court Juvenile cases involve children under the age of 18 years, and when Circuit Courts hear cases involving juveniles, they sit as a Juvenile Court. Juvenile Court matters include some


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