SJC Issues Order Restricting Court Appearances to Emergency Matters until May 4

In light of the ongoing and urgent public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 (coro­navirus) pandemic, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) on April 1 issued an orderthat continues to restrict the number of people coming to Massachusetts state courthouses through May 4.

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 be­fore May 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 the 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.

The Trial Court announced the April 2, 2020 launch of a Help Line for non-emergency matters that the public can call to ask general questions about their civil and criminal cases and help callers navigate the court system. The Help Line will be staffedfrom8:30 a.m. to 4:30p.m., Monday throughFri­day, and can be reached by calling 833-91COURT.

Full lists of emergency mat­ters identified in Standing Orders for each department of the Trial Court, as well as updates regard­ing the court’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, are avail­able on thecourt’s website.

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