In an unprecedented move, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts issued an order restricting in-person court appearances to “emergency matters” only, until at least April 6, 2020. The Trial Court Department has issued a flurry of short-term policy changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including shutting down court completely on March 16 and 17, 2020.
Although in-person hearings have been mostly banned, the directive allows for certain videoconference or telephonic hearings.
In addition, all jury trials are moved until at least April 21, 2020. Our clients’ cases have been severely disrupted, and many of our trial dates have already been moved, with some having been postponed indefinitely.
Finally, the trial court orders have specifically excluded the time calculation for defendant’s speedy trial rights. This means that the resulting continuances do not count toward the one-year period within which a defendant has a right to be tried.
While these emergency measures are new and seemingly altered by the hour, there may be some good to come from the changes. For example, we often have pretrial hearings and status conferences that are essentially just checking in with the court with our discovery progress between the parties. A lot of these “check-ins” are meaningless and clog up the court’s time, use up our time (and our clients), and cause unnecessary travel and wait times. Hopefully when everything is back up and running, the trial courts will allow the continued use of telephonic and videoconference hearings for check-ins, thus becoming more efficient, and allowing the court more time to dedicate to trials, evidentiary hearings, and other pressing matters.
Stay safe out there, and keep washing those hands!