Articles Posted in Law- General

Maryland has an increasingly diverse population. This means that our court system needs to keep pace with the needs of our residents. By law, this includes providing interpreter services to those who cannot communicate effectively in English.

Here is an article from the Baltimore Sun about how courts in Baltimore City and Baltimore County are addressing this issue.

Because my personal injury practice is statewide, I have noticed that some courts deal with the issue of providing interpreters more effectively than others. I have found Montgomery County to be most effective and best able to provide interpreters in many languages on short notice. I think this is because Montgomery County has long been one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the state, so they have developed substantial experience serving a variety of non-English speaking populations. There are generally Spanish interpreters available on a few minutes’ notice, and there is an established procedure for quickly and simply requesting interpreters in most languages, who actually show up when they are supposed to be there.

Hello, everybody! In case you noticed my absence over the last few weeks, I was away getting married and honeymooning. Now I am back at the blog, albeit a little tired from watching late election results last night.

But as they say, all politics is local. In Maryland, some jurisdictions charge for ambulance service, while others do not. For example, Baltimore City charges a $410 fee for ambulance service, while Baltimore County charges nothing.

In May, the Montgomery County Council approved a $400 fee for ambulance service to assist with a 13 million dollar budget gap. After a trip to the Court of Appeals of Maryland and back, opponents of the fee could get the issue on the general election ballot for a referendum. Yesterday, Montgomery County residents voted against allowing the county to continue to charge fees for ambulance service.

One of the most annoying parts of representing plaintiffs in personal injury lawsuits is locating and serving the defendant driver with process. For non-lawyers, “process” refers to the summons issued by the court when a lawsuit is filed. The summons is an order from the court notifying the defendant of the lawsuit and directing her to respond within a particular time period. It is designed to make sure that anyone who is subjected to a lawsuit is given notice of the case and a chance to respond.

serving process defendant abroad
Most often, service of process is made by having a process server physically locate the defendant and hand her the papers. The process server executes a sworn affidavit documenting service, which is then filed with the court.

What if you can’t find the defendant to serve her? Or if the defendant has been served, but has never participated and seems to have vanished? You must consider filing a Motion for Alternative Service or a Motion for Entry of Order of Default.

Here is a great blog post (since taken down) by renowned trial lawyer Paul Luvera where he talks about representing victims of an oil refinery explosion. Paul is responding to people who were critical of the victims’ families retaining counsel.

corporate accountability
His main point is that when dealing with a large corporation, there is only one language the corporation understands- money. The only reason a corporation exists is the generation of a profit for the shareholders. All of its corporate decisions are governed by that overriding principle. Left entirely on its own, a corporation will generally do what is in its economic self-interest, whether that entails reasonable actions to promote safety or not.

When unsafe actions start to cost money (either through suits for money damages, regulatory fines, or bad publicity) is when corporate behavior changes. If you have ever seen the movie Fight Club, there is a scene where the main character describes his job as a “recall coordinator” for an automobile manufacturer. He says his job is to apply “the formula.” This is how he describes it:

Last night, the Maryland General Assembly passed a bill to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November raising the jury prayer amount in civil cases. Currently, in any civil case filed seeking more than $10,000.00, the defendant has a right to a jury trial. This provision does not have an escalator allowing it to rise along with the cost of medical care and wages lost.

This bill will permit a Constitutional amendment raising that amount to $15,000.00. Because this law relates to a constitutional amendment, it needed a 2/3 majority to pass. It will now appear on the ballot in November’s general election, where it will hopefully be approved by the voters.

This is an important issue for car accident lawyers in Maryland. As an example, consider a typical soft-tissue injury case. There is an emergency room visit with X-rays and a bill from the ER physician. That’s about $800, conservatively. The client needs 8 weeks of follow-up physical therapy. That’s about $4600. Then include two weeks missed from work, at about $1400 total. That’s $6800 in out of pocket losses. If the client needs an MRI to rule out a structural problem, you are looking at $8,000 in out of pocket damages for a relatively uncomplicated sprain/strain case. Filing for $10,000 does not really provide the potential to make a recovery to adequately compensate that client. But filing for more means that the defendant may pray a jury trial and delay the case for up to a year waiting for a trial date in Circuit Court, and requiring expensive, time-consuming discovery. The plaintiff may need to miss even more time from work to appear at a deposition, a court-ordered medical exam, and a settlement conference.

First, check out the Hon. Dennis Sweeney’s statement on the Sheila Dixon case. If you take the time to read it, you will find it very enlightening. If I’m wrong, I will refund the purchase price of this blog post.

It is clearly Judge Sweeney’s belief that the conviction was not the result of a confused jury, political play, or anything other than the fact that Mayor Dixon did some things that any reasonable person, particularly one with her intelligence and political experience, would know were stupid.

I have seen Judge Sweeney speak (in fact, the topic was professionalism and ethics), know his reputation in the legal community, and have had friends serve as his clerks. He’s now retired, because Maryland has an incredibly stupid law requiring judges to step down at age 70, but allowing them to hear cases part time. In my opinion, all that does is bolster his props as an independent outsider. He’s legit. I am accepting his opinion at face value.

The last few months, I have been appearing in appellate courts more often than trial courts. For a lot of trial lawyers, this would be a bad thing. I actually prefer it. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy trial work- I love the competition and the chance to use my creativity. But I love handling appeals. If I had the choice, I would choose an appellate argument over a jury trial any day of the week.

Here are a few thoughts I have about the right way to handle oral argument before appellate courts. They are not in any particular order. Actually, one of them is, and it’s first.

DO NOT READ THE ARGUMENT. Seriously. If you think this is a good idea, you are not competent to handle appeals. In fact, not only should you not handle appeals, but if I have to sit there while you read it, you should be killed. Every appeals judge in the land will instantly hate your argument if you are reading. Since they sit on an elevated bench, this means that they can only see the top of your head. It means you are not making eye contact. It demeans the process because it inhibits free flowing interaction with the court.

You usually do not see sitting judges doing a lot of press. Part of the job is the appearance of being above the fray. So this interview the Baltimore Sun did with newly sworn Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge John Nagle is kind of a rare opportunity to see a judge speak publicly about how they feel about the responsibility of the position and the way they intend to run a courtroom.

Judge Nagle is clear that he disapproves of attorneys who appear flip or glib. I am now making a mental note to tone it down when appearing before Judge Nagle.

I thought this letter to the Baltimore Sun was interesting. Letter writer Andrew Slutkin notes that of the ten highest paying occupations in the Baltimore area, 9 of them are doctors. The only non-doctor position in the top ten is CEO. These are the people crying for tort reform because their insurance is too expensive. Boo Hoo. God forbid you drop to 11th or 12th highest paid. You might have to start bringing your own lunch to work.