Guide District Court FAQs Related to COVID-19

Frequently asked questions about the District Court related to coronavirus (COVID-19). Last updated May 5, 2020.

Table of Contents

General

Q.  Are all of the District Courts open during this public health crisis? 

All District Courts are hearing all emergency matters without the necessity of persons coming to the courthouse, and are instead addressing all emergency matters virtually by telephone, videoconference, email or comparable means. All District Courts are also addressing non-emergency, pre-trial matters in criminal cases where the defendant is currently in custody and requests that their matter be heard. Rather than traveling to the court, persons with emergency matters, or those who are uncertain as to whether their matter constitutes an emergency, should contact the local district court by telephone or by calling the Trial Court call center at 833-91COURT.

Additionally, unless prohibited by statute, rule, or order, court hearings that are being conducted virtually are open to the public in that members of the public are permitted to virtually attend a hearing by joining the videoconference or telephonic conference call. Persons interested in viewing a videoconference hearing or listening to a telephonic conference call hearing should contact the District Court in which the hearing is being conducted for instructions. 

Non-Criminal FAQ's

Q.  What constitutes an emergency?

Under District Court Standing Order 5-20, the matters listed below are the non-criminal emergency matters that will be addressed virtually by the Court. Persons with questions about whether their matters constitute an emergency should contact their local court by calling the court directly, telephone contact information is on the District Court location information pages or by calling the Trial court call center at 833-91COURT. As with any immediate threat of physical injury, the first call should be to 911 or the local police department.

  • emergency abuse prevention orders;
  • emergency harassment prevention orders;
  • emergency extreme risk protection orders;
  • evaluations and hearings on petitions for commitment for substance abuse disorders, G.L. c. 123, § 35;
  • Mental health matters brought pursuant to G.L. c. 123
  • other matters deemed an emergency by a judge or Clerk-Magistrate 

Q.  How do I obtain an emergency abuse prevention order, harassment prevention order or emergency extreme risk protection order?

During court hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., persons in need of an emergency abuse restraining order, harassment prevention order, or emergency extreme risk protection order should contact their local court by telephone. The court will obtain all necessary information from you and arrange an immediate hearing with a judge by telephone. If circumstances warrant, and as with any emergency, you should not hesitate to contact the police directly. If you need to obtain these orders after court hours, you should contact your police department directly and may do so by phone. If an order is issued, the court will let you know about the date and time for a follow up telephone hearing after notice to the defendant. You can reach victim services from the numbers listed here SAFEPLAN Program or call SafeLink toll-free 24/7 hotline (877) 785-2020.

Q.  I have a restraining order, issued after a two party hearing that is about to expire.  What should I do?

All emergency protection orders that are due to expire will remain in effect until the matter is rescheduled and heard by a judge. You will be notified of a future hearing date by the court which you must attend if you want the protection order to last longer.

Q.  How do I file a Section 35 petition, and request a court order requiring someone to be civilly committed and treated involuntarily for an alcohol and substance use disorder?

You should contact either your local court by telephone, or the court where you believe the person is currently located, to discuss the options that may be available in the current health crisis. If you feel that there is an immediate danger you should contact your local police or emergency services.

Q.  How do I file a Section 12 petition, and request a court order requiring someone to be civilly committed and treated involuntarily for someone who is a danger to themselves as a result of their mental illness?

You should contact either your local court by telephone, or the court where you believe the person is currently located, to discuss the options that may be available in the current health crisis. If you feel that there is an immediate danger please contact your local police or emergency services.

Q.  What do I do if my local courthouse is temporarily closed due to COVID 19?

You can find information regarding temporary court closures at: Temporary court closures due to COVID-19You can also call the Trial Court Help Line 833-91COURT which will be able to direct you to an alternative court.

Even if your local court is temporarily closed, there are procedures in place for Emergency Matters to be handled remotely by telephone. 

Any telephonic hearings previously scheduled by a court which is temporarily closed will nonetheless proceed as scheduled.

Q.  How can I file something in the District Court? 

Every District Court continues to receive mail, and the electronic filing system continues to operate in regular civil matters. However with limited staffing, there may be some delay in receipting the new filings. The public access index on MassCourts.org will display all new filings added to our case management system, and you may wish to check this site location. 

Q.  Can I speak to someone in person at a specific Clerk’s Office?

The courts are operating with reduced staff due to the coronavirus. If the matter you are calling about is not an emergency, and if you are not in urgent need of a response the best way to communicate directly with a specific Clerk’s Office is to email them using the email address listed on each of the District court pages on Mass.gov. Court contact pages are found here. If you find it necessary to call the court, you will find the main number to the courthouse listed on each of the District Court location information pages. 

Q.  I had a hearing using a conference call line. Can I use this number to contact the Clerk’s Office directly?

No. The conference call lines are for court hearings only. The best way to reach court staff is by the general email address located on each of the District Court location contact pages. You may also call the main number to the courthouse listed on each of the District Court location information pages

Q.  Can I access my case online?

The following civil case types can be accessed and viewed via MassCourts.org:

  • Civil
  • Small Claims
  • Summary Process
  • Supplementary Process

You can also check this site prior to contacting the court for a new hearing date if you have not yet received a notice from the court. 

Q.  What should I do if I was scheduled for Jury Duty? 

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered that all jury trials, in both criminal and civil cases, are postponed until July 1, 2020. If you are scheduled for jury duty before July 1, your jury duty has been cancelled. You will not be summoned again until 2021, at the earliest.

If you’re scheduled to appear for jury duty on July 1 or later, you are on Standby, meaning you may or may not have to serve. You’ll receive more information from the Office of Jury Commissioner about your service as your date gets closer.

Q.  My case is supposed to go to trial – will I be able to have a jury trial?

By order of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, all jury trials have been continued to a date on or after July 1, 2020. 

If your trial is a civil case and the parties and the court agree that the case can be decided by a bench trial (a case where the judge serves as the fact-finder instead of a jury) without the need for in-person appearance in court, it is possible that your trial may proceed. If you have questions about your trial, you should contact the Clerk’s Office. The best way to communicate with the Clerk’s Office regarding civil cases is to email them using the email address listed on each of the District Court location information pages. You may also call the main number to the courthouse listed on each of the District Court location information pages. If you’re represented by a lawyer, you should speak with your lawyer about the status of your case.

Q.  I tried to email the Clerk’s Office, but no one responded. How can I make sure my email is being received by the Clerk’s Office?

The courts are operating with reduced staff due to the coronavirus. We have created a general email account for each Clerk’s office. Please use that email and a member of the Clerk’s office staff will respond to you as soon as possible. Email information is located on each of the District Court location information pages, click on the courthouse you are looking for to access the email address.

Q.  How long will this pandemic affect court business?

Courts are currently closed to the public until June 1, but this date may be extended. We will continue to update the public here.

Q.  I have a hearing date. Will it be held?

Except for emergencies, any civil matters scheduled through May 29, 2020 will be re-scheduled to some date on or after June 1, 2020.

All civil matters filed between March 18, 2020 and May 29, 2020, including civil motor vehicle infractions, will be rescheduled by court staff. You will receive notice from the court with the new date. You should contact your attorney, if you have one, or the Clerk’s Office by using the general email address or main phone number for more information. Court email and telephone information is located on each of the District Court location information pages.

Criminal FAQ's

Q.  What constitutes an emergency?

Under District Court Standing Order 5-20, the following are considered criminal Emergency Matters:

  • hearings for Order of Pretrial Detention pursuant to G.L. c. 276, § 58A (dangerousness hearing)
  • arraignments of new arrests in which the arrestee is in custody
  • warrant removals for persons in custody
  • probation violations where detention is sought 
  • motions seeking that the court reconsider a person’s custodial status
  • other matters deemed an emergency by a judge or clerk-magistrate  

Q. What non-emergency criminal matters is the court addressing?

The District Courts are also addressing all non-emergency, pre-trial matters in criminal cases where the defendant is in custody and requests a hearing, such as pleas or admissions and pretrial and compliance and election hearings. Staff and resources permitting, some District Courts may also address criminal pre-trial matters for persons who are not in custody. 

Q.  I have a hearing date, will it be held?

Persons who have been arrested and bailed should follow the direction of the bail magistrate, bail commissioner or the clerk’s office. 

If your court date is scheduled between May 4 and May 29, you should check with your attorney regarding the status of your case, if you have one, as he or she may be able to look up the new court date using the Attorney Portal. If you do not have an attorney, you can contact the Clerk’s Office closer to your court date. The best way to contact the Clerk’s Office is by using the general email address or main phone number for more information. Court email and telephone information is located on each of the District Court location information pages.

Q.  My family member is held on bail, can I get a bail review?

Yes, if the bail was set in one of the District Courts, bail reviews by the Superior Court are being scheduled and conducted by video. You should contact your lawyer for additional information.

Q.  How do I post bail?

No bail will be posted at the courthouse and you should not come to the court.  Bail should be posted either at the police station or at the jail where the person is being held. In some situations bail may be posted remotely through the use of a financial application such as PayPal or Venmo. You should contact either the police department or the jail to find out the specifics of posting bail in your situation. 

Q.  I have a warrant, what should I do?

You should not come to the court.  You can either contact the police, or you can contact the clerk’s office of the court that issued the warrant for further instruction.

Q.  Can I still have my criminal record expunged?

Expungement Petitions are not considered Emergency Matters. If a matter on your criminal record is interfering with your housing or employment situation please call the Clerk's Office where the record that you are seeking to expunge was created. You can reach the Clerk’s Office by using the general email address or main phone number for more information. Court email and telephone information is located on each of the District Court location information pages.

Q.  My case is supposed to go to trial, will I be able to have a jury trial?

By order of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, all jury trials have been continued to a date after July 1, 2020. You should speak with your lawyer about the status of the case.

Q.  I am on Probation and I need to leave the state due to a family emergency. Can I have my probation conditions changed?

You should contact your probation officer. The Court may be able to handle this matter administratively without a hearing IF the DA and probation do not have an objection. If there is an objection, a video or telephone conference will be arranged. Probation offices can be reached by calling the main phone number for the court. Courthouse telephone information is located on each of the District Court location information pages.

Q.  Can I make payments in person at the courthouse?

Right now, courthouses are closed to the public until at least June 1, 2020 and are only open for Emergency Matters. No fees or fines can be paid at a courthouse at this time. Payment due dates have been extended to June 30, 2020. If you wish, you can make a payment online using the ePay System, by visiting ePay in the Courts.

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