Massachusetts Courts to Continue Virtual Hearings Until July

Massachusetts courthouses will remain closed until at least July 1, but judges in the state will start hearing more non-emergency cases by telephone, videoconference or a number of other virtual means.

by Steph Solis, MassLive.com / May 27, 2020
Shutterstock

(TNS) — Massachusetts courthouses will remain closed until July 1, but judges will start hearing more non-emergency cases by telephone, videoconference or other virtual means.

In an order issued Tuesday, the Supreme Judicial Court wrote that all court business will be conducted virtually until at least July 1, except for certain emergency matters that must be handled in-person.

“We will physically open courthouses to the public only when we are confident that we have protocols in place that will allow court users and court personnel to both be safe and feel safe, and even then we will open only in stages, focusing first on those matters that can only be addressed in person,” Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants said in a statement.

Court officials will spend next month bolstering the courts’ capacity to handle the bulk of legal matters virtually, Gants said.

The chief justices previously said the courthouses would likely reopen after June but would rely on virtual hearings if in-person appearances can be avoided.

Under the order, each Trial Court department is expected to issue guidelines specifying what qualifies as a non-emergency matter that will be address virtually, according to the order. The information will be posted on the COVID-19 webpage for the courts.

Court officials must take into consideration several factors, including limited court staffing, technological constraints, the volume of emergency or higher-priority matters and legal constraints such as the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures that took effect in April.

Jury trials in both criminal and civil cases are still postponed to Sept. 8, 2020. The chief justices previously wrote the return of jury trials would coincide with the reopening of schools.

Civil bench trials are postponed until at least July 1, though a judge could decide to conduct it virtually. The same goes for criminal bench trials as long as the judge, defendant and plaintiff all agree the proceedings can be conducted virtually.

©2020 MassLive.com, Springfield, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs