Supreme Judicial Court Issues New Order Regarding Jury Trials and Operation of Courts

The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) last week issued an updated order regarding the operation of Massachusetts state courts and courthouses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The order goes into effect immediately.

Under the new order, on or after October 23, 2020, courts will begin Phase 1 of the gradual resumption of jury trials, in general accordance with the recent recommendations contained in the report of the Jury Management Advisory Committee (JMAC). Phase 1 will consist of a limited number of six-person jury trials that will be conducted in person in a select number of locations, with no more than one trial at a time conducted in each location, and with specified limitations on the number of peremptory challenges available to each party. The cases that will be tried to juries during Phase 1, as well as the locations thereof, will be determined by the Chief Justice of the applicable Trial Court department, in consultation with the Chief Justice of the Trial Court. The SJC shall issue direction regarding Phase 2 of the resumption of jury trials after reviewing the JMAC’s evaluation of Phase 1. It is anticipated that Phase 2 will begin in February 2021, although plans regarding the resumption of jury trials may be adjusted in response to significant changes in the rate of COVID-19 transmission in the Commonwealth.

Otherwise, courts will continue to conduct most business virtually and courthouses will continue to be physically open to the public for limited purposes, including certain other in-person proceedings. Judges will continue to schedule and conduct bench trials, either virtually or in-person. Each Trial Court department will continue to post notices to the court system’s COVID-19 webpageidentifying how (virtually or in-person) it is addressing various categories of matters.

Clerks’, registers’, and recorder’s offices will continue to be physically open to the public, while still endeavoring to conduct business virtually as much as possible.

New grand juries may be empaneled subject to certain approvals and such conditions as may be necessary to minimize risk to members of the grand jury, court personnel, and witnesses.

All orders, standing orders, guidelines, and notices issued by any court department or appellate court in response to the pandemic, as well as all amendments, modifications, and supplements are posted upon issuance on the court system’s COVID-19 webpage.

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