In St. Joseph Medical Center, Inc., et al. v. Turnbull, Misc. No. 21, filed on June 24, 2013, the Court of Appeals of Maryland granted a writ of mandamus or prohibition. Although such action is rarely taken, the Court of Appeals found it necessary to do so here because Judge John G. Turnbull II, an Administrative Judge, exceeded the scope of his authority when he reviewed and vacated the trial judge’s Orders to bifurcate the issues at trial.
Under Maryland Rule 2-503(b) claims or issues in a trial may be bifurcated for “convenience or to avoid prejudice.” In the present case, the Court of Appeals held that the trial judge, Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Nancy M. Purpura, acted within the scope of her authority when she bifurcated or separated claims in two cases pending before the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Weinberg v. Midei, et al. and Sullivan, et al. v. St. Joseph Medical Center, Inc., et al. Both Weinberg and Sullivan contain allegations that the cardiac stents received during cardiac catheterization procedures performed by Dr. Midei at St. Joseph Medical Center were medically unnecessary. Dr. Midei and St. Joseph Medical Center sought to bifurcate the trials. These motions to bifurcate the medical malpractice issue from the other counts were granted by Judge Purpura. However, Administrative Judge Turnbull vacated Judge Purpura’s decision.
The Court of Appeals Judge Clayton Greene Jr., wrote in the court’s opinion that “Judge Turnbull’s actions threatened the integrity of the judicial system, the authority of trial judges to preside over cases before them, and the public’s trust in the courts.” Judge Greene also wrote that “[a]uthority over the ‘internal management’ of the court is not the equivalent of the authority over any judicial decision that affects case flow.” Ultimately the Court of Appeals vacated the two Orders issued by Judge Turnbull, relating to the bifurcation of Weinberg and Sullivan. In so doing, the Court of Appeals sought to “restore these cases to the status quo just prior to the actions taken by Judge Turnbull.”