Courts stay closed for another month
The Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) just announced that courts across Massachusetts will remain closed to in-person hearings. In addition, the SJC further ordered that no jury trials can be held until at least July 1, 2020.
The good news is that some non-emergency hearings will be allowed in May, to be conducted by phone or videoconferencing.
The new order replaces the April 1, 2020 Order Regarding Court Operations Under The Exigent Circumstances Created By The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic. The new order also clarifies some processes for hearings during May.
In-person emergency matters
Until at least June 1, 2020, all state courthouses will continue to be closed to the general public, except for certain rare exceptions. Everything else will be conducted by telephone or videoconference.
Virtual non-emergency matters
Trial Court departments
The Trial Court is ordered to identify what types of cases they will address virtually. We expect an update from them soon, as many of our clients are waiting for their cases to resume. As noted above, there will not be any trials during this period, but hopefully we can make some progress on cases that are in the pre-trial stage.
SJC and Appeals Court
The Supreme Judicial Court and Appeals Court will continue to conduct oral arguments virtually in non-emergency matters.
Clerks’, Registers’, and Recorder’s Offices
All court clerks’, registers’, and recorder’s offices will continue to conduct court business in all emergency matters and in non-emergency matters designated by their respective court department, including accepting the filing of pleadings and other documents, scheduling and facilitating hearings, and issuing orders. While these offices are also ordered to continue to answer questions from attorneys, litigants, and the general public, we have found that some clerk’s offices follow the rule better than others.
Who can enter courthouses for an emergency in-person proceeding
Entry into a courthouse for the purpose of an emergency in-person proceeding will continue to be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the judge presiding over the proceeding, plus no more than three members of the “news media” as defined in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19(2).
In cases where a trial court judge has ordered electronic monitoring in the form of either GPS or remote alcohol monitoring or in cases where, pursuant to an earlier court order, previously installed electronic monitoring equipment requires maintenance or removal, all installations, maintenance, or removals of such equipment may occur in the courthouse to ensure security and access to personal protective equipment by probation personnel.
Jury and Bench Trials
All jury trials, in both criminal and civil cases, scheduled to commence in Massachusetts state courts between March 13, 2020, and July 1, 2020, are moved until at least July 1, 2020. All bench trials (non-jury trials) scheduled to begin between March 13, 2020, and June 1, 2020 are continued to a date no earlier than June 1, 2020, unless the parties agree to conduct them virtually.
Speedy Trial Rights During COVID-19 CRISIS
Unfortunately for our clients, the SJC specifically ruled that this time period is excluded from the 1 year right to a “speedy trial.”
Statutes of limitation
All statutes of limitation are tolled from March 17, 2020, through May 31, 2020.