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. 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.
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.
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, you may indicate your pronouns, and state whom you represent for the record. The Chief Justice of the Appeals Court 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.