Mass. Courts Devise Plans To Limit The Number Of People In Courthouses

The Massachusetts Trial Court is taking more steps to limit the number of people in state courthouses because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.

Courthouses will remain open, but starting Wednesday, March 18, some court events will be postponed until May. Each of the state's seven trial courts has issued its own plan, and court users are advised to review how their specific court matters are affected. The Court also recommends consulting with an attorney or calling the court clerk's office.

The Trial Court said the courts will be open for regular business and emergencies, such as restraining order requests and mental health proceedings. Some previously scheduled court-related events may be held via video conference or phone, particularly for those who are incarcerated. Specialty court sessions will continue.

All proceedings will be managed to ensure social distancing, and scheduling will be staggered to minimize the number of people in courts at once. Some probation standards and practices may be modified.

The Trial Court is urging people to take other steps to reduce visits to courthouses, such as filing court documents electronically and paying court fees online. Many criminal hearings where a defendant is not in custody should be postponed until after May 1.

"Historically, approximately 40,000 people come into our 99 courthouses every day," said a statement from Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. "Our priority is to significantly reduce the number of people who come into our courts, especially in large group settings, by reducing the number of matters the court will hear and by increasing the number of matters that the court will resolve through video and telephone conferences."

On Friday, the state Supreme Judicial Court issued orders postponing the empanelment of jury trials in criminal and civil cases until after April 21. Grand juries will be extended until then as well.

"The Trial Court community remains committed to ensuring access to justice for people who need assistance, by keeping courts open and available to court users to the extent possible, while ensuring that steps are taken to protect other court users and court staff.” Carey said.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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