In local news, former Charles County Commissioner’s President Candice Quinn Kelly saw her federal lawsuit against Charles County State’s Attorney Tony Covington dismissed by the court this week. This was a federal lawsuit, and the Court dismissed it without a hearing.
The legal issues in the lawsuit were highly technical and constitutional. Generally speaking, government officials have immunity from civil lawsuits for things they do in their official capacity. Kelly was claiming that Covington abused his authority and did things for which he should not receive immunity. If an official does something that exceeds their government legal authority, they can then be sued. Ms. Kelly raised some very interesting constitutional issues in her suit, but the Court obviously disagreed with her assertions.
This case points out a very interesting difference between the state and federal courts. Most lawyers know this, but probably not a lot of non-lawyer citizens. The federal courts do a lot of their work via written opinions. The judges there will dismiss a lawsuit based on written filings, without the need for a formal hearing with oral argument. The state courts are exactly the opposite. If you want to get something done in state court, you better ask for a hearing and make your oral argument. Otherwise, it may sit around forever.
I think this difference has to do more with court culture than anything else. The rules of procedure do allow a state judge to take all manner of actions without a hearing. They just don’t do it often. And the rules do say that the judge cannot make a ruling that is dispositive of a case (meaning it ends it completely) without a hearing IF one is requested. And since most lawyers request that hearing, the state court usually has to have the hearing.
But I don’t think it is just the rule that causes this. I am also telling you that in my experience, state judge’s don’t like to issue written rulings. They usually do it from the bench on the record. Federal judges are exactly the opposite. They are quick to rule in writing and kick your case out of their court.
As for Ms. Kelly’s suit, it was dismissed “without prejudice”, meaning she can bring it back another day if she wants to. Whether that has any chance of success, given the court’s dismissal, is another matter. But she does have all of her options still open to her.