Update: Courts Reopening

SJC Issues New Guidelines as Courts Across the Commonwealth Prepare to Reopen

As businesses and organizations across the Commonwealth continue to reopen and adopt new standard operating procedures, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) offered guidance for citizens and courthouses to ensure the safety of all those within the court system.

Two-Phase Reopening

Published on June 24, 2020, under the third updated order, it was announced that courthouses will remain closed to the general public until July 13, 2020. As under the previous orders, emergency and non-emergency matters are being handled either in person or virtually, as is practicable and in line with constitutional protections.

July 13th marks the first step of a two-phase reopening plan, and while the courthouses will be open, only certain cases will be heard, in order to limit the number of people entering the courthouses. Each trial court department will publish here what types of cases will be heard during phase one.

Phase one begins July 13, 2020. Courthouses and clerks’ offices will reopen and entry will be allowed to those who are attending in-person court proceedings (including their attorneys, witnesses, necessary parties and members of the news media), conducting in-person business with a clerk’s, register’s or recorder’s office, meeting with a probation officer or staff person and other business in offices located within the courthouse that are open to the public.

A helpful video was published by the courts here

Updates, including any excluded matter, will be published by the trial court department on their COVID-19 information page. Matters may be excluded for various reasons, including limited staffing, technological constraints, the need to prioritize emergency or other matters and legal constraints (for example, the governor’s moratorium on evictions). Our office is communicating with each district court within the trial court department to know which matters are being heard in person, heard virtually or are being continued for a new date. As the courts continue to work hard to reopen, we will keep our clients informed as we receive updates. Some guidelines for virtual hearings have been posted here.

For information on trials and tolling, please see our previous blog. Injunctions that were issued prior to March 17, 2020, following an adversarial hearing, shall remain in place from March 17 to August 31, 2020, and then until such a time as the matter can be rescheduled and heard.

Phase two begins August 10, 2020.

Public Access

Access to courthouses has come withnew and updated rules. These rules include the following:

  • All entrants must wear a mask, this includes parties to proceedings, attorneys, members of the news media and those whose workplaces are inside the courthouse. This does not apply to court personnel, who must abide by the safety restrictions imposed by the Trial Court (or relevant appellate court);
  • Personnel may limit the number of entrants in order to maintain social distancing measures;
  • All entrants will be screened with a no-contact thermometer and entry will be denied to anyone with a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit;
  • Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 is advised to refrain from coming to court; and
  • Entrants are encouraged to use hand sanitizer and to bring their own pens to use for filling and signing forms.

For all published guidelines, follow the link above. Those who do not follow the guidelines established will be denied access to the courthouse. If you are denied entry, you should contact your attorney or the clerk’s office.