A constitutional amendment to limit the right of jury trials in Maryland civil cases to disputes involving more than $10,000 won overwhelming approval yesterday.
Maryland's Constitution had guaranteed the right to a jury trial in Circuit Court in civil cases involving claims of more than $5,000. Amounts below that went to District Court for trial before a judge.
Supporters, including the Maryland Trial Lawyers Association, Maryland Bankers Association and credit providers, said raising the threshold would reduce case backlogs and help resolve lawsuits more quickly and efficiently.
But insurance industry opponents said the more relaxed rules of evidence in District Court would give an advantage to plaintiffs -- leading to higher awards and, in turn, higher insurance rates.
The issue of raising the threshold for jury trials in civil cases was presented in Maryland once before, in 1992, when voters agreed to an amendment that raised the amount from $500 to $5,000.
A second constitutional amendment that affects judicial functions in two counties and was described by judges as a "housekeeping measure" also won easily.
L The margin of approval for each amendment was nearly 2-to-1.
The judicial amendment was designed to make it clear that retired Circuit Court judges in Montgomery and Harford counties, who sometimes fill in on the circuit bench, can be assigned as Orphans' Court judges.
Unlike other Maryland counties, Montgomery and Harford do not have a separate Orphans' Court, which handles routine probate matters. Instead, the probate of wills and similar matters are handled in Circuit Court.
The amendments take effect Dec. 8, when election results are certified by the state Board of Canvassers.
Pub Date: 11/04/98