The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has issued an updated order regarding the operation of Massachusetts state courts and courthouses during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The new order went into effect March 1, and will replace the existing order issued on September 17, 2020.
Court operations largely remain the same under the new SJC order. The principal change involves the transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 of the gradual resumption of jury trials. As described in the order, Phase 2 has been modified from the Phase 2 recommended by the Jury Management Advisory Committee (JMAC) in its report of July 31, 2020. The modified Phase 2 will consist of six-person jury trials, conducted in person, in a select number of locations, with limitations on the number of peremptory challenges in certain types of cases. Priority will be given to criminal cases where the defendant is in custody, although civil trials may take place. The cases that will be tried during Phase 2, as well as the locations, will be determined by the Chief Justice of the Trial Court and the Chief Justices of the applicable Trial Court departments, in consultation with the Regional Administrative Justices and First Justices in each court.
During Phase 2, which is expected to last two months, all jury trials will continue to be conducted pursuant to the health and safety practices recommended by the JMAC. The SJC will issue further direction regarding the resumption of jury trials after reviewing the JMAC’s evaluation of Phase 2. As throughout the pandemic, however, all plans and expectations may be adjusted at any time in the ongoing effort to balance the safety of everyone who enters a courthouse with the fundamental constitutional right to a trial by jury.
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 and other hearings, either virtually or in-person. Each Trial Court department will continue to post notices to the court system’s COVID-19 webpage identifying 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.