Guide to Oral Arguments in the Appeals Court

A guide for attorneys, self represented parties, and court visitors that discusses how, where, and when the Appeals Court conducts its oral arguments.

This page is not a substitute for the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure (Rule 22).

General Information

The Appeals Court hears oral arguments the first three weeks of every month from September through June. Court sessions are held in Courtrooms 3 and 4 on the third floor of the John Adams Courthouse and are open to the public.  Sessions begin promptly at 9:30 a.m., unless otherwise indicated on the Notice of Argument, and conclude at approximately 1:00 p.m. Oral arguments for each case generally take about one-half hour (fifteen minutes per side).

Anyone interested in viewing a particular case may check the oral argument calendar to determine approximately when it is scheduled, or call the Clerk’s Office. All oral arguments are open to the public, but seating is available only on a first-come first-seated basis. Visitors should be aware that many cases may attract large crowds and make plans accordingly. 

Back to top.

Single Justice Sessions

On those occasions when a Single Justice of the Appeals Court schedules hearings, the hearings are held in either Courtroom 3 or 4 on the third floor of the John Adams Courthouse, at a time and date indicated in the prior written notice issued to each side. Unless otherwise indicated by the single justice, each side is allowed fifteen minutes for argument.

Sessions Around the Commonwealth

As part of the Appeals Court's continuing outreach program, the court schedules some oral argument sessions for locations outside of Suffolk County and beyond the walls of the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, where the court ordinarily sits. 

As in Boston, the sessions are open to the public with seating allotted on a first-come, first-served basis. Unless otherwise noted, sittings begin promptly at 9:30 a.m. A three judge panel generally hears six cases during each session and arguments take approximately thirty minutes per case.

Check here or the Appeals Court online calendar regularly to find a sitting in your area and to access public docket information about the cases once they are assigned.   

Back to top.

For Attorneys and Self-Represented Litigants

Approximately two-thirds of this court’s cases have an oral argument before a panel of 3 justices. If a case is chosen for argument, the Clerk’s Office will send a Notice Seeking Information on Unavailability roughly six weeks before the scheduled argument date.  Counsel of record and self-represented litigants who have properly registered to receive e-mail notice will be sent this notice electronically; those who have not registered to receive e-mail notice will receive a hard copy by U.S. Mail.  (A link to the e-notification consent form is here pdf format of E-notification Consent .)  The Notice requires that the recipient reply via e-mail or in writing to notify the Appeals Court of any pre-planned unavailability to assist the court in scheduling a firm date for argument.

To the extent possible, the Clerk will schedule the oral argument to avoid conflicts.  Once the oral argument has been scheduled, the Clerk’s Office will send a Notice of Argument, which requires that the recipient reply by e-mail or by mail to specify the name of the attorney or self represented litigant who will present oral argument for a specific party.

Once the Notice issues, conflicts that would qualify as "grave cause" for a continuance should be called to the Clerk's attention by motion, with a copy to opposing counsel.

There will be no continuances granted except for grave cause.

In Case of Emergency:  If you are involved in an emergency of a nature that would preclude oral argument, contact the Clerk's office immediately. The Clerk’s office will make every effort to replace your case with a standby case.  However, the opportunity to call a standby case is lessened nearer to the scheduled date for argument. If a standby case is called in place of your case, your case will be rescheduled on the next month's list.

Back to top.

The Day of Oral Argument

Upon Arrival:  Appeals Court courtrooms are on the 3rd floor of the John Adams Courthouse. A Session Clerk is available in or near the courtroom before argument to answer questions concerning protocol and procedures.  All persons presenting an argument must sign an appearance form prior to the start of the session at 9:30 a.m. This is the only means by which the Session Clerk is able to know that you are present. Cell phones, pagers, personal computers, and other electronic devices must be turned off before entering the courtroom.  Cameras are not allowed in the courtroom during proceedings, unless approved by the panel.  Food and beverages are not allowed in the courtroom.  Water is provided at counsel tables.

Order of Cases:  The cases are called in the order posted on the monitor outside the courtroom.  Occasionally, circumstances come up that require a late change in the order of cases.  Please confer with the Court Officer or Session Clerk to verify the order of argument.  Six or seven cases may be scheduled on the daily list. All cases scheduled for a particular day will be called on that day; cases are never rescheduled to the following day.

Where do I sit while waiting for my case to be called?  Counsel should wait in the courtroom if arguing the first or second case on the list.  Be aware that cases may conclude earlier than planned or otherwise may be advanced unexpectedly. If you must leave the courtroom, please notify the Court Officer.  If your case is the next case on the list, you should be in the courtroom prepared to come to counsel table when the case is called.

Courtroom seating:  Prior to the day of argument, please advise the Clerk's Office of any necessary accommodations (handicap access) so court personnel can make suitable arrangements.  The district attorneys' offices and the criminal defense bar may contact the Clerk's office to plan for any accommodations that may involve security issues or victim-witness assistance issues. Attorneys may sit in front of the railing in the courtroom, all other interested parties may sit on the benches provided in the main gallery behind the railing.  If you have any questions regarding where to sit, please check with one of the Court Officers.

Back to top.

Participants in the Courtroom

Justices:  The Justices enter the Courtroom through the door behind the bench.  They sit on the bench in order of seniority with the Associate Justice who is acting as Presiding Justice of the three-justice panel in the middle, and the most junior Associate Justice on the far right, as you face the bench.

Clerk:  A Session Clerk sits to the lower left of the Bench.  The Session Clerk's responsibilities in the courtroom include providing the Justices with materials about the cases, ensuring that attorneys scheduled to argue cases are signed in and present in the courtroom, running the time clock, and recording the arguments.

Law Clerks:  Each Justice employs a law clerk, who are law school graduates, to assist with legal research. The law clerks are often present in the courtroom to listen to the oral arguments.

Court Officers:  The Court Officers sit in the designated court officer's boxes in the courtroom.  Usually there are two Court Officers present in the courtroom during regular sessions.  The Court Officer's role is to call the Court to order, maintain decorum in the courtroom, and assist in seating of counsel and spectators, as well as distributing appearance sheets to parties who are arguing cases.  Those appearance sheets are then given to the Clerk assigned to the session.

Back to top.

During Argument

The presiding justice of the three-justice panel will announce your case.  Counsel who will argue first should immediately advance to the podium. After the conclusion of argument in a case, counsel in the following case will be given a brief moment to set up at counsel table after the case is announced. As one faces the bench, the appellant (appealing party) is seated at the table to the left of the lectern, and the appellee at the table to the right. 

How do I address the members of the Court?  The usual opening address is "Members of the panel, may it please the Court."  It is appropriate to introduce yourself and state whom you represent for the record.  Chief Justice Rapoza is referred to as "Chief Justice."  Associate justices, including those that are serving as the Presiding Justice for that panel, are referred to by name or "Your Honor."

How does the timer operate; what do the lights indicate?  The set of timers, one facing the podium and one facing the bench, is operated by the Session Clerk and is started at the Court's indication or when counsel begins to speak.  The green light is on for the first thirteen and one-half minutes of argument.  A yellow light indicates one and one-half minute remaining.  A red light indicates the end of the time allotted.  Once the red light appears, the timer will begin to count how much time is being taken beyond the allotted amount. Counsel should immediately conclude the argument, unless actively engaged in responding to a question from the bench. The appellant argues first.  Each side is allowed fifteen minutes to argue;  rebuttal is not permitted.  If there is more than one party on the same side, the parties should divide their side's fifteen-minute time allotment. 

Anyone who is scheduled to appear before the panel who requires special accommodations (for example, special seating or hearing devices) should notify the Clerk’s Office in advance of the hearing date.

How much time is allowed; is there rebuttal?  Unless otherwise directed by the panel, each side is allowed fifteen minutes for argument. Requests for additional time may be allowed in rare circumstances and must be made in advance of argument by written motion. The appellant argues first; there is no opportunity for rebuttal. There is an opportunity to file post-argument letters only if the Justices have so requested, or pursuant to Rule 16(l) of the Massachusetts Rules of Appellate Procedure.

Where there are multiple parties on each side, prior to argument the Session Clerk should be notified concerning the parties' agreement as to how they intend to divide the fifteen minutes.

How does the microphone operate?   The microphone is preset to amplify as well as record. Do not attempt to adjust the microphone.  During argument you should speak in a clear, distinct manner so that your voice will be audible to the Justices and will be clearly recorded.  You should avoid having notes, books, or your hands touching the microphone since this interferes with the recording process.

Exhibits/Transcripts -- Who has them and where are they on argument day?  In civil cases, the rules place the obligation on the appellant to designate the record on appeal, including transcripts and exhibits.  However, exhibits (and transcripts in a civil case) remain in the trial court unless and until ordered by the Appeals Court.  If a party wishes to have exhibits or chalks used at argument, arrangements must be made through the Clerk's Office prior to argument.

Recording of Oral Arguments:

Currently webcasts of live oral arguments are not available. A CD-ROM of the oral argument may be obtained from the Clerk's office for a fee of $50.50.  

Back to top.

Decisions

The Justices issue written decisions generally within 130 days following oral arguments. Published opinions are available on-line at the website of the office of the Massachusetts Reporter of Decisions , after 10:00 a.m. on the day the opinion is issued.

Summary dispositions pursuant to Rule 1:28 issued after February 25, 2008 are now available in a searchable database at the same website.  The service is available at no cost to the public.

Back to top.