The Massachusetts Trial Court
The Massachusetts Trial Court operates under the general superintendence of the Supreme Judicial Court and includes seven court departments – Boston Municipal Court, District Court, Housing Court, Juvenile Court, Land Court, Probate and Family Court, and Superior Court. Each department has its own Chief Justice and Administrative Office. The Supreme Judicial Court appoints a Chief Justice of the Trial Court and a Court Administrator for five-year terms to oversee the seven court departments, the Office of Jury Commissioner, and the Office of the Commissioner of Probation.
The Executive Office of the Trial Court includes the Chief Justice and the Court Administrator and their staff, the Legal Department, the Judicial Institute, and the Department of Research & Planning. The Office of Court Management provides services to all Trial Court departments in the following areas: Court Capital Projects, Facilities Management, Fiscal, Human Resources, Information Services, Support Services, and Security.
The Chief Justice of the Trial Court appoints the departmental Chief Justices for five-year terms. The Trial Court has 379 authorized judicial positions and employs more than 6,300 staff who handle more than one million case filings annually in more than 100 locations statewide.
In most Trial Court departments, each court division is managed by a First Justice appointed by the department's Chief Justice. The Superior Court Department designates Regional Administrative Justices who assist the Chief Justice in administering the department. The District Court Department also designates Regional Administrative Judges.
The Massachusetts Trial Court was created by Chapter 478 of the Acts of 1978. Previously, all trial courts in the Commonwealth were county or local courts funded through the counties (except the Land Court, which was a state court). The 1978 statute reorganized the courts into seven Trial Court Departments. After 1978, the judges of all departments received the same salary and benefits from the state and all became state judges. Massachusetts judges are appointed by the Governor to one of the Trial Court departments with confirmation by the Governor's Council, an elected body. Judges receive lifetime appointments with mandatory retirement at age 70.
The 1978 statute also created a central administrative office, the Administrative Office of the Trial Court, managed by a Chief Administrative Justice, responsible for the overall management of the Trial Court. It charged this central administrative office with developing a wide range of centralized functions and standards for the benefit of the entire Trial Court. This included central development of a court system budget, accounting and procurement systems, and personnel policies, procedures and standards for judges and staff who were formerly employed by counties. Over time, the Trial Court assumed management responsibility for other areas, including facilities, security, libraries, and automation.
In 1992, a second court reorganization bill enacted by the Legislature, Chapter 379 of the Acts of 1992, greatly expanded the Juvenile Court Department and ended trial de novo in the District Court Department. The Act further expanded the duties and the responsibilities of the Chief Justice, designating the position as the Chief Justice for Administration & Management.
Legislation effective July 1, 2012 (Chapter 93 of the Acts of 2011), created two Trial Court leadership positions – Chief Justice of the Trial Court and Court Administrator – and formed the Office of Court Management.
Boston Municipal Court
The Boston Municipal Court Department is comprised of 30 authorized judicial positions to serve eight divisions within the City of Boston. Judges are appointed to a specific division but frequently sit in other divisions within the Boston Municipal Court Department.
The civil jurisdiction of the Boston Municipal Court includes cases in which the likely recovery does not exceed $25,000; small claims cases; summary process cases; and mental health, and alcohol and drug abuse commitments. In the city of Boston, a party seeking a domestic violence restraining order (often referred to as a 209A order) or a harassment prevention order under c. 258E generally seeks protection in the Boston Municipal Court.
Criminal jurisdiction extends to felonies punishable by a sentence of up to five years and many other specific felonies with greater potential penalties; misdemeanors, including violations of domestic violence restraining orders; and violations of city and town ordinances and by-laws. The Court also has jurisdiction over evictions and some related matters, and provides judicial review of some governmental agency actions.
The District Court Department is comprised of 158 judges authorized to serve the department's 62 divisions located statewide, except in Boston. District Court judges are appointed to a specific division but frequently sit in other divisions within the District Court.
The Court's civil jurisdiction includes cases in which the likely recovery does not exceed $25,000; small claims cases; summary process cases; and mental health, and alcohol and drug abuse commitments. A party outside of Boston seeking a domestic violence restraining order (often referred to as a 209A order) or a harassment prevention order under c. 258E generally seeks protection in District Court.
Criminal jurisdiction extends to felonies punishable by a sentence up to five years and many other specific felonies with greater potential penalties; misdemeanors, including violations of domestic violence restraining orders; and violations of city and town ordinances and by-laws. The Court also has jurisdiction over evictions and some related matters, and provides judicial review of some governmental agency actions.
The Housing Court Department has jurisdiction over civil or criminal action including equitable relief, involving the health, safety or welfare of the occupants or owners of residential housing. The Court hears summary process (eviction) cases, small claims cases and civil actions including claims for personal injury, property damage, breach of contract, and discrimination, as well as code enforcement and appeals of local zoning board decisions that affect residential housing. The Housing Court has 10 judges authorized to serve its five divisions: Boston, Northeast, Southeast, Western and Worcester – and conducts satellite sessions in 21 locations every week.
The Juvenile Court Department, with 41 authorized judicial positions for 11 divisions, has jurisdiction over cases involving delinquency, child requiring assistance, care and protection petitions, adults contributing to the delinquency of minors, adoption, guardianship, termination of parental rights proceedings, and youthful offenders. Many of the Court's divisions conduct satellite sessions in multiple locations within their respective jurisdictions.
The Land Court Department has seven authorized judicial positions and statewide jurisdiction over the registration of title to real property, and foreclosure and redemption of real estate tax liens. The Court shares jurisdiction over matters arising out of decisions by local planning boards and zoning boards of appeal, and over most property matters. The Court also has superintendence authority over the registered land offices in each Registry of Deeds. Based in Boston, the Land Court may schedule sessions in other locations within the Commonwealth.
Probate and Family Court
The Probate and Family Court Department has jurisdiction over family-related matters such as divorce, paternity, child support, custody, visitation, adoption, termination of parental rights, and abuse prevention. Probate matters include jurisdiction over wills, administrations, guardianships, conservatorships, and changes of name. The Court has 51 authorized judicial positions serving its 14 divisions.
The Superior Court Department has exclusive, original jurisdiction in first degree murder cases and original jurisdiction for all other crimes. It has jurisdiction over all felony matters, although it shares jurisdiction over crimes where other Trial Court departments have concurrent jurisdiction. It has jurisdiction over civil actions where the amount in controversy is over $25,000, and matters in which equitable relief is sought. The Superior Court has jurisdiction to review certain administrative decisions. It has 14 divisions, one in each county, and several hold sessions in more than one location. There are 82 authorized judges. The Superior Court is the only "circuit court" of the seven departments. Judges are routinely scheduled to sit in one location for several months.
Office of the Commissioner of Probation
The Massachusetts Probation Service includes the Office of Community Corrections and is an integral part of the judicial system, conducting investigations, diversion of appropriate offenders from institutional sentences, community supervision of offenders, mediations, service to victims, and other appropriate community service functions. The goal of the Massachusetts Probation Service is to help keep communities safe and to provide probationers with the rehabilitative tools they need to live a safe, law-abiding lifestyle. Probation partners with local law enforcement and human services agencies to provide a range of programs, initiatives and resources, such as substance abuse counseling and educational and job training. More than 1,800 probation staff deliver services in more than 100 probation offices across the state.
Office of Jury Commissioner
The Office of Jury Commissioner (OJC) oversees the random selection, notification, qualification and utilization reporting for Massachusetts citizens for jury service. Performance of juror service is required of any citizen who is a resident or an inhabitant of the Commonwealth for six months or more during the year, in the judicial district from which the juror is summoned. Massachusetts introduced a One Day or One Trial system in Middlesex County in 1979, and by January 1987 became the first state in the country to adopt this system statewide. Prospective jurors are selected at random from the resident lists annually supplied to the OJC by each of the 351 cities and towns. OJC has a Delinquent Juror Prosecution Program to ensure that all prospective jurors fulfill their duty and obligation under the law. More information on jury service is available at the OJC website: www.MAjury.gov