On Tuesday, May 26, 2020 the Supreme Judicial Court issued its third order regarding court operations in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the new order, courthouses will remain closed to the general public for non-emergency matters through at least July 1, 2020.Although courthouses are physically closed to the public, business is still being conducted for emergency and select non-emergency matters. Judges and court staff are being trained to conduct hearings via telephone and video conferencing services. The SJC and the trial courts expect to be able to process more cases with the use of these virtual services, ensuring access to justice during these difficult times.
The Law Offices of Joseph D. Bernard remains in contact with the district courts to reschedule matters as soon as courts reopen. In addition, we are already working with the various means of electronic communication with the courts to conduct telephone conferences for non-evidentiary hearings and dispositions. We are also prepared for video conferencing services once the district courts extend this measure.
The only matters that will physically take place in the courthouses are select emergency hearings in which meeting by virtual means is impracticable or would be inconsistent with constitutional protections. In-person emergency meetings may be attended by parties, witnesses, counsel and no more than three members of the news media. In order to ensure the safety of court staff and the parties, no other members of the public may be admitted without the prior approval of the judge or clerk magistrate conducting that hearing. The district court webpage lists guidelines and a helpful FAQ, which includes a list of what the court considers to be an emergency matter.
Non-emergency matters to be addressed through virtual means are categorized by each district court, and those guidelines published and will be continuously updated as court capabilities are expanded. The district court webpage lists these guidelines regarding the types of non-emergency matters that may be heard by the court. At present, most of these matters pertain to individuals who are in custody or to concerns regarding a person’s safety. However they are slowly being expanded to non-custody cases.
All jury trials are to be postponed until at least September 8, 2020 as a matter of public health. All bench trials, for both civil and criminal matters are to be postponed until at least July 1, 2020. A bench trial, per the judge’s discretion, may be held virtually.
The SJC has expanded tolling, or the extension of statutes of limitations, in its new order. As of March 17, 2020, however many days remained under a statute of limitations is now the number of days that exist following June 30, 2020 for civil cases and August 31, 2020 for criminal cases. These dates are subject to change in response to further SJC standing orders in response to the pandemic.
Any injunctions that were issued prior to March 17, 2020 and in effect from March 17, 2020 to June 30, 2020, following an adversarial hearing shall remain in effect until the matter can be rescheduled and heard.