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Massachusetts Courts and COVID-19

All Massachusetts Courts now operate under severe restrictions to normal operations in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.  The near shut down follows an April 1, 2020 order by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.  The “SJC” represents the top court in the Commonwealth.

Massachusetts Courts and COVID-19 Update
Massachusetts Courts and COVID-19 Precautions

The SJC cites urgent public health concerns posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the court order, replacing earlier orders, explains that “all of the courts in the Commonwealth will be open to conduct court business”, Massachusetts courthouses will be closed to the general public except in emergency legal matters.

The court cancelled all jury and non jury trials through at least May 1.  Selected non-jury trials will go forward if the parties agree.  They must also agree on an alternative other than an in-person traditional courthouse trial.

The different courts released their own information:

Massachusetts District Courts:

All cases scheduled for a “court event” between March 18 and May 1, 2020 shall be continued to a date no earlier than May 4, 2020 and no less than 60 days from the date of the scheduled event or to a date by agreement of the respective parties and the clerk’s office.

District Court Standing Order 4-20

Boston Municipal Courts:

All civil matters currently scheduled or filed between March 18 and May 1, 2020 including civil, motor vehicle appeals, and administrative reviews shall be continued the the first business day no less than 60 days from the date of the scheduled event or to a date by agreement of the respective parties and the clerk’s office.

Boston Municipal Court Standing Order 4-20

Massachusetts Superior Courts:

The same general trial continuances apply to all Superior Courts.  The Superior Courts issued an order stating that until at least May 4, the courts remain open to conduct court business.  At the same time, Superior Court will be closed to the general public except where entry is required for emergency matters that can’t be resolved virtually.  The courts now make all efforts to handle matters by telephone, video conference, email, or through electronic filing unless totally inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights.

Superior Court Order 4-20

You may notice that the above summaries provide slightly different information for each Massachusetts Court.  That’s because each trial court enacted its own Order.  The links above take you to the specific order and how it may affect your case.

Do Emergency COVID-19 Measures Affect Deadlines?

Courts, court rules and many laws give people deadlines.  Deadlines extended under the order include statutes of limitation.  In other words, under the order, all statutes of limitation that would have run between March 17, 2020 and May 3, 2020 are extended to no later than May 4.

If uncertain as to what a statute of limitations means, go ahead and click on our blog article on statutes of limitations.

Without addressing each and every case pending in all courts of the Commonwealth the SJC order provides overall guidance.  Deadlines including tracking order dates now face automatic extension.  The extension pushes dates forward by the number of days between the initial court order of March 17, 2020 and the tracking order date.

Court ordered deadlines also extend automatically under the same rule of thumb explained above.

Who to Call About Court in Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts Trial Court also announced a new court information “Help Line”.  People with questions about any non-emergency case, civil or criminal, may call:

833-91COURT

That “Help Line” will be staffed from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The court explains the number was set up for those needing to ask general questions about their civil and criminal cases and to help navigate the court system.

The Massachusetts courts urge those with emergency matters to first call their local court clerk’s or register’s offices.  The above Help Line serves as backup where people are unable to reach the needed office.

Emergency matters include – but are not limited – to the following:

  • Abuse prevention orders & initial hearing after notice;
  • Emergency harassment prevention orders & first hearing after notice;
  • Extreme risk protection orders & initial hearing after notice;
  • Arraignments of persons arrested who are held in custody;
  • Removing warrant for people under arrest;
  • Probation violations where detention is sought for persons arrested on a warrant or for a new crime;
  • Search warrants;
  • Mental health commitment hearings or evaluations;
  • Mental health orders.

All matters deemed emergency including those above that arise between 8:30 am and 4:30 p.m. must be heard, under terms of the order, by the judge presiding in the court with jurisdiction.  At the same time traditional in-court hearings are not being conducted as before during the pandemic.  Instead, the courts face the challenge, and reality, of setting up actual valid court proceedings by video conference, telephonic conference or otherwise.

In other words, during the pandemic, attorneys and parties must seek enforcement of their rights by video, telephone conference call or otherwise, without presence in court.

If you or a friend/family member face criminal, domestic violence or other imminent matters the court provides the information linked here and beyond detailing here.

Massachusetts Prisoner Releases Under COVID-19

Criminal defendants in jail waiting for trial in Massachusetts face potential release due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Massachusetts S.J.C. issued a ruling on April 3, 2020 ordering the release of certain prisoners from prisons and jails statewide.

The ruling clarifies that prisoners held on bail now enjoy a “rebuttable presumption of release”.  Those held on not facing certain serious offenses and are not deemed to pose a threat to the community.

Pretrial detainees not charged with listed violent crimes top the list of those eligible for release.  Those held behind bars for violating probation or parole also face potential release.  The unprecedented ruling potentially brings release for thousands behind bars in the Bay State.

At the same time those previously sentenced gain no remedy from the high court decision.

The 45 page order sets out rules and procedure for attorneys and detainees on how to apply for prison release and how the cases will be handled.


The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers remain open, with restrictions, during this difficult time.  More than ever we offer a free consultation by telephone regarding your personal injury case or bankruptcy.  We take all reasonable precautions to disinfect the office should an actual office consultation be required.  Contact us now through the “leave a reply” block below.  Or, call one of the telephone numbers at the top left of this page.


Sources:

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, et. als.,  SJC 12926, ruling issued April 3, 2020.

Massachusetts Court System Response to COVID-19; Emergency Alerts.

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Attorney Myers is a member of the American Trial Lawyers Association, Massachusetts Academy of Trial Lawyers, and New Hampshire Trial Lawyers Association. The Law Offices of Andrew D. Myers offer a broad range of legal services in personal injury cases in Massachusetts (MA) and New Hampshire (NH) areas.

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