Journalist's Guide

any party (and perhaps the motion of most interest to journalists) is the motion for summary judgment , which often uses the facts and materials gathered during the investigation of the case and the sworn answers taken in discovery with interrogatories or depositions. Any party can file such a motion, asking the court to rule in its favor on the case or an issue “as a matter of law,” that is, the evidence is so clear a judge or jury hearing the case could only find for the party filing the motion. The public often expresses outrage at frivolous lawsuits and the motion for summary judgment may be an effective tool to end such litigation. All motions must be filed with the clerk of the court and they are available for viewing in the case file. At the request of either party, a hearing may be held on the motion, including discovery motions, such as a motion to compel to make a party provide something, or a motion for protective order to prevent a party from having to provide something. Occasionally, when the motions are pending, the court file will be sent to the judge for a ruling on the motion, so the file may be temporarily removed from the clerk’s office. The decision or order by the judge will also be in the file, sometimes accompanied by a written decision setting forth the basis for the court’s decision. Alternative Dispute Resolution/Settlement Maryland courts strongly support efforts to resolve cases before trial by mandating or referring cases and parties to alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures. While parties can agree among themselves to particular types of ADR, such as mediation or binding arbitration, a common type of ADR is a settlement conference, which is a meeting between counsel and parties, before an active or retired judge or lawyer to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the case with an eye toward resolving it before trial. Settlement, however, does not need to take place at the courthouse as it can occur at any time. If a case is settled, the plaintiff will sign a release and dismiss the claims against the defendant. Some releases contain confidentiality clauses, which vary, but often include a provision that the party is not to disclose the amount of money for which the case was settled. Some governments do not enter into confidential settlements as a matter of policy, so their settlement terms may be available under the Maryland Public Information Act. Whether governments are permitted to shield some of the terms from public scrutiny or penalize the other party for speaking publicly about the settled case, is an open legal question. For further information about ADR procedures, see Title 17 of the Maryland Rules. Trial The trials of district and Circuit Court cases are somewhat similar procedurally, if not stylistically, although District Court judges, who never have a jury, usually dispense with opening arguments and go right to the witnesses. Judges hearing a case without a jury normally have neither the time nor interest to sit through the normal courtroom dramatics present in jury cases, nor would such dramatics likely sway a judge. Non-jury cases are also much faster to try


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