June 29, 2020
SUMMARY OF KEY PROVISIONS IN SJC’S JULY 1 COVID-19 ORDER
The following is a summary of key provisions in the Supreme Judicial Court’s (SJC) Third Updated Order Regarding Court Operations Under The Exigent Circumstances Created By The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic (July 1 Order), which, effective July 1, 2020, will repeal and replace the Second Updated Order Regarding Court Operations Under The Exigent Circumstances Created By The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic, which became effective June 1, 2020 (June 1 Order). If there is a conflict between this document and either order, the provisions of the order prevail.
Courthouses will reopen for limited purposes on July 13. Massachusetts state courthouses will physically reopen to the public on July 13. Persons seeking to enter will be subject to screening to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and entry will be limited to persons (1) attending in-person proceedings, (2) conducting business with a clerk’s, register’s, or recorder’s office, (3) meeting with probation, or (4) conducting business at other offices that are open to the public in the courthouse.
Courts will continue to conduct most business virtually. Until at least September, courts will continue to address most emergency and non-emergency matters virtually (i.e., by telephone, videoconference, email, or comparable means, or through the electronic filing system), in both civil and criminal cases.
Some additional matters will be addressed in person beginning in two phases on July 13 and August 10. Until July 13, courts will continue to conduct in-person proceedings only to address emergency matters that cannot be handled virtually. On July 13, Trial Court departments will begin to conduct in-person proceedings to address certain additional matters. In-person proceedings will be further expanded in a second phase beginning on August 10. Each Trial Court department will post notices to the “Court System Response to COVID-19” webpage (https://www.mass.gov/guides/court-system-response-to-covid-19) (COVID-19 webpage) identifying the additional matters it will address in person in each of the two initial phases.
Clerks’, Registers’, and Recorder’s Offices. Until July 13, clerks’, registers’, and recorder’s offices will continue to conduct business virtually, except when filing in an emergency matter cannot be accomplished virtually. Beginning on July 13, all of these offices will physically reopen to the public, while still endeavoring to conduct business virtually as much as possible. Drop-boxes may be provided at courthouses for the hand-delivery of pleadings or other documents for filing. Each Trial Court department, however, also will provide guidance on the COVID-19 webpage on how to file pleadings and other documents without coming to the courthouse.
Cell phones allowed in courthouses. Beginning on July 13, cell phones and other personal electronic devices will not be banned from any courthouse, as long as they are used in compliance with the rules set forth in Trial Court Emergency Administrative Order 20-10 (Order Concerning Trial Court Policy on Possession & Use of Cameras & Personal Electronic Devices), which was issued on June 24. The rules shall be posted on the COVID-19 webpage and at the entrance to each courthouse.
Jury trials. There will continue to be no criminal or civil jury trials until at least September 8. 2
Civil bench trials. Civil bench trials are generally continued until a date no earlier than July 13, unless the trial judge determines that the trial can be conducted virtually before that date. There will be no further general continuance beyond July 13 and judges will begin to schedule civil bench trials. Civil bench trials may be conducted virtually in the discretion of the trial judge.
Criminal bench trials. Criminal bench trials are generally continued until a date no earlier than July 13, unless the parties and court agree that the trial can be conducted virtually before that date. There will be no further general continuance beyond July 13 and judges will begin to schedule criminal bench trials. Criminal bench trials must be conducted in person unless the parties and trial judge agree to conduct the trial virtually.
Grand jury. No new grand jury can be empaneled prior to September 8, unless the SJC so orders. Existing grand juries are extended until the date of that new empanelment or the date of the October 2020 empanelment, whichever occurs first. A procedure set forth in the July 1 Order must be followed to convene an existing grand jury.
Tolling of statutes of limitation. All civil statutes of limitations were tolled by prior orders from March 17, 2020, through June 30, 2020, and will not be tolled any further. All criminal statutes of limitation are tolled from March 17, 2020, through September 30, 2020, because of the limited availability of grand juries.
Tolling of deadlines set forth in statutes, court rules, standing orders, tracking orders, or guidelines. Unless otherwise ordered by the applicable court, court department, or the presiding judge, all deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, tracking orders, or guidelines that expired at any time from March 17, 2020, through June 30, 2020, were tolled by prior orders through June 30, 2020, and will not be tolled any further.
Court-ordered deadlines in particular cases. Unless otherwise ordered by the judge presiding over the case, all deadlines established by a court in a particular case prior to March 17, 2020, that expired at any time from March 17, 2020, through June 30, 2020, were tolled until July 1, 2020. No further tolling is anticipated.
Expiring injunctions and similar orders. Unless otherwise ordered by the applicable court, all orders in a particular case that were issued prior to March 17, 2020, after an adversarial hearing (or the opportunity for an adversarial hearing), that enjoined or otherwise restrained or prohibited a party from taking some act or engaging in some conduct until a date at any time from March 17, 2020, through August 31, 2020, shall remain in effect until the matter is rescheduled and heard. To the extent they are not already doing so, Trial Court departments shall reschedule and hear these matters. If such an order issued on or after March 17, it may issue for the full period allowed by the applicable statute.
Some courts are temporarily closed. Massachusetts Courts temporarily closed.
April 1, 2020 SJC Order Restricting Court Appearances Until May 4, 2020
Effective April 6, 2020, the new order repeals and replaces two earlier court orders; the Order Regarding Empanelment Of Juries, issued by the court on March 13, 2020, and the Order Limiting In-Person Appearances In State Courthouses To Emergency Matters That Cannot Be Resolved Through A Videoconference Or Telephonic Hearing, issued by the court on March 17, 2020.
All trials, whether jury or bench, in both criminal and civil cases, scheduled to begin in Massachusetts state courts on or beforeMay 1, 2020, are continued to a date no earlier than May 4, 2020, unless the trial is a bench trial in a civil matter and may be conducted otherwise than in-person by agreement of the parties and of the court.
As a result of today’s SJC order, courthouses will continue to be closed to the public except to conduct emergency hearings that cannot be resolved virtually (i.e., by telephone, videoconference, email, or comparable means, or through the electronic filing system) until at least May 4, 2020. All court clerks’, registers’, and recorder’s offices shall continue to conduct court business –to accept the filing of pleadings and other documents in emergency matters, to schedule and facilitate hearings in emergency matters, to issue orders in emergency matters, to answer questions from attorneys, litigants, and the general public, and to conduct other necessary business of the respective court. All such business will be conducted virtually, except when the filing of pleadings and other documents in emergency matters cannot be accomplished virtually.
March 17 SJC Order
In light of emerging developments and public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic and the actions ordered by the Governor, the Supreme Judicial Court, pursuant to its superintendence authority, issues the following ORDER to protect the public health by reducing the risk of exposure to the virus and slowing the spread of the disease. Except with respect to trials currently underway, this Order is intended to supplement and not replace the Orders the Supreme Judicial Court issued on March 13, 2020.
- Effective March 18, 2020 and continuing until at least April 6, 2020, the only in-person proceedings that shall be held in Massachusetts state courthouses will be to address emergency matters that cannot be resolved through a videoconference or telephonic hearing, either because such a hearing is not practicable or because it would be inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights. This Order does not affect any court’s consideration of matters that can be resolved without in-person proceedings through communication by telephone, videoconferencing, email, or other comparable means.
- Trial Court clerk’s offices shall remain open to accept pleadings and other documents in emergency matters, and applications made pursuant to paragraphs 6 and 8 of this Order. The offices of the Clerk of the Appeals Court and the Clerks of the Supreme Judicial Court for the County of Suffolk and for the Commonwealth shall remain open, but shall accept filings in person only in emergency matters that cannot be filed electronically.
- Entry into a courthouse for the purpose of an emergency in-person proceeding shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the trial judge, plus no more than three members of the “news media” as defined in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19(2).
- Each Trial Court department shall issue a new Standing Order consistent with this Order no later than March 17, 2020. In the new Standing Orders, which shall replace or supplement the Standing Orders issued on March 13 or 14, each Trial Court department shall determine what constitutes an emergency matter, recognizing that courts will necessarily be operating with skeletal staffs and that the public safety of court personnel, court users, and the general public is paramount.
- Except as provided herein, all trials, whether jury or bench, in both criminal and civil cases, scheduled to commence in Massachusetts state courts between the date of this Order and April 17, 2020, are hereby continued to a date no earlier than April 21, 2020, unless the trial is a bench trial in a civil matter and may be conducted otherwise than in-person by agreement of the parties and of the court. Where a jury trial has commenced prior to the effective date of this Order, a mistrial shall be declared based on the manifest necessity arising from the pandemic.
- Upon a showing of exceptional circumstances, a party who has had a trial or evidentiary hearing postponed by this Order may apply for an exception from this Order by motion directed to the trial court. No exception shall be granted except with the approval of the judge and the Chief Justice of the court department. Where a party seeks a jury trial, no exception shall be granted without consultation with the jury commissioner.
- The continuances occasioned by this Order serve the ends of justice and outweigh the best interests of the public and criminal defendants in a speedy trial. Therefore, the time periods of such continuances shall be excluded from speedy trial computations under Mass. R. Crim. P. 36.
- Where a trial or evidentiary hearing is postponed as a result of this Order, the parties may apply for a conference with the court to address matters arising from the postponement, which shall be conducted by telephone or videoconference. In criminal cases, where appropriate, a defendant may ask the court for reconsideration of bail or conditions of release. Nothing in this Order addresses the disposition of such requests for reconsideration.
- All statutes of limitations are tolled from the date of this Order through April 21, 2020. Unless otherwise ordered by the applicable court, all deadlines set forth in statutes or court rules, standing orders, or guidelines that would otherwise expire before April 21, 2020, are extended to that date.
- All orders that were issued prior to this Order after an adversarial hearing (or the opportunity for an adversarial hearing) that are due to expire prior to April 21, 2020, shall remain in effect until the matter is rescheduled and heard.
- The Court may issue further orders regarding this matter as necessary to address the circumstances arising from this pandemic.
The Official policy from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. To summarize there will be NO JURORS UNTIL AT LEAST APRIL 21.
Access to State Courthouses and Facilities
The Official policy from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. https://www.mass.gov/doc/sjc-order-in-re-covid-19-coronavirus-pandemic-regarding-access-to-state-courthouses-court
The U. S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued the following orders on March 13, 2020:
General Order 20-3 In Re: Coronavirus Public Emergency: Order Concerning Grand Jury Proceedings. This order continues grand jury proceedings until April 27, 2020.
The U. S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts issued the following orders on March 16, 2020:
General Order 20-4 In Re: Coronavirus Public Emergency: Order Concerning Criminal Proceedings. This order continues criminal proceedings, with some exceptions, for 60 days.
General Order 20-5 In Re: Coronavirus Public Emergency: Order Concerning Mediations and CVB Sessions. This order continues all mediations and sessions of the Central Violations Bureau until April 27, 2020.
General Order 20-6 In Re: Coronavirus Public Emergency: Order Concerning Naturalization Ceremonies. This order suspends naturalization ceremonies scheduled for March and April 2020 .
Please check back regularly as the policies that affect the Massachusetts courts.
Please Practice Social Distancing. Everyone has a role to play. Together we can Flatten the Curve.