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Probate Court Tests Virtual Access in Massachusetts County

Essex County Probate and Family Court is testing the use of Zoom virtual conferencing to provide some public services while the courthouse remains closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

by Julie Manganis, The Salem News / June 17, 2020
Shutterstock/Zolnierek

(TNS) — Essex County Probate and Family Court is testing the use of Zoom to provide services to the public while courthouses are still closed as a result of COVID-19.

The Essex probate courthouses are among courts in three counties that are trying out the technology to assist people with things like questions or filling out forms.

Probate and Family courts have a higher percentage of people who are representing themselves, without a lawyer, than the state's other courts. The Zoom test will also include the ability for a member of the public to ask questions of the "lawyer of the day," an attorney who can answer legal questions, when available.

The state's Supreme Judicial Court has been using teleconferencing equipment, and lower courts have been conducting arraignments, restraining order hearings and motions for release via telephone and videoconference due to the pandemic.

The Essex Probate and Family Court, which handles matters like divorces, child custody and support, guardianships, and the disposition of property and assets after a death, began using the equipment last month.

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey called the use of Zoom "innovative" and said the effort will increase access.

"This is a great resource for court users while court buildings are closed to the public except for certain matters and an alternative to going to courthouses after they reopen," said Probate and Family Court Chief Justice John Casey.

The Zoom link, www.zoomgov.com/j/1613549831, is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Staff can assist users with questions, filling out forms and checking on the status of a case or getting copies of documents. 

In order to protect privacy, users are put into a "waiting room" and then are admitted one by one, where they can ask questions. The user can then be sent to another virtual room for more detailed issues.

The link can be used on a smartphone or computer. Users who do not have access to Internet service can still reach the courts by phone. A court help line, 833-91COURT, has been set up to answer questions as well.

©2020 The Salem News (Beverly, Mass.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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