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District Court FAQs Related to COVID-19

Frequently asked questions about the District Court related to coronavirus (COVID-19). Last updated July 15, 2020.

Table of Contents

General

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

A.  Yes, all District Courts are open to conduct certain designated business and to conduct hearings in certain designated matters. Some court business, beginning on July 13, will take place in person. The other business that the Court is conducting is taking place without the necessity of persons coming to the courthouse, and are instead addressing these matters virtually by telephone, videoconference, email or comparable means.  These are called “virtual hearings.”

The lists of matters that the District Court is hearing in-person and virtually as of July 13 are set forth below.  On August 10, additional matters are expected to be added to these lists.     

Q.  Which matters are the District Courts conducting in person? 

A.  Entry into a District Court courthouse is permitted for persons who are present for one or more of the following purposes:

  • Attending one of the following in-person court proceedings:
    • hearings on petitions for commitment pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 35;
    • hearings on petitions for commitment pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 12(e);
    • warrant removals;
    • arraignments (for those both in custody and not in custody) and any proceeding that may arise during the arraignment or as a direct result of the arraignment including bail revocation, dangerousness hearings pursuant to G.L. c. 276, § 58A, probation detention hearings, competency evaluations pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 15, and disposition of a case;
    • probable cause hearings where evidence will be taken;
    • upon motion or request, and in the discretion of the judge, bench trials in criminal cases in which persons are in custody, evidentiary motions to suppress for persons in custody, and tenders of plea or admissions for persons in custody;
    • upon motion or request, and in the discretion of the judge, probation violation hearings;
  • conducting in-person business with a Clerk’s Office;
  • meeting with a probation officer or staff person.

Q.  Who is allowed to be in the courtroom during one of the events listed above? 

A. Court personnel, attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the judge can be physically present in a courtroom for in-person proceedings. Additionally, the judge may permit members of the public, including the “news media” as defined in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19(2), to access the proceeding, which may include allowing them to sit in the courtroom, provided there is sufficient space for them to maintain appropriate physical distance. 

Judges may, upon request, authorize a participant to one of the events listed above (an attorney, party, or witness) to appear virtually while other participants appear in-person, so long as it is consistent with the protection of constitutional rights. 

Aside from persons entering the courthouse for one of the reasons set forth above, no other persons are permitted in the courthouse.

Rather than traveling to the court, persons seeking court action on a designated matter,  or those who are uncertain as to whether their matter is a designated matter being heard by the court, should contact the local district court by telephone or by calling the Trial Court call center at 833-91COURT.

Q. How can the public virtually access court proceedings held during the pandemic?

A.  Unless prohibited by statute, rule, or order, members of the public can virtually attend court hearings by videoconference or telephonic conference call.  Persons interested in accessing a court hearing should contact the District Court presiding over the hearing for instructions on how to virtually attend the hearing.

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

A.  As of July 13, every District Court Clerk’s Office is open for the conducting of court business. Some courts also have options for the filing of documents without having to come into the Clerk’s Office, such as electronic filing or filing documents in drop boxes outside of a courthouse.  You should contact your local Clerk’s Office to inquire whether they are using a drop box or if a filing can be accepted by email. Clerk’s Offices continue 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 Clerks Office?

A.  The courts are operating with reduced staff due to the coronavirus. If the matter you are calling about is not one of the designated matters, 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.  My event has been scheduled for a Zoom video conference.  How do I access the Zoom hearing? 

A.  The notice of hearing that was sent to you should contain instructions on how to access the hearing, including a meeting ID and, to the extent that there is one, a meeting password. You may also call the Clerk’s Office to obtain instruction on how to access the videoconference hearing. 

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

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

A.  The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordered that all jury trials, in both criminal and civil cases, are postponed until September 8, 2020. If you are scheduled for jury duty before September 8, your jury duty has been cancelled. You will not be summoned again until 2021, at the earliest.

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

A.  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. If you have not heard from the Clerk’s Office within a reasonable period of time, you may call the general phone number or email the general email account again. 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?

A.  Courthouses continue to conduct certain designated business and to conduct hearings in certain designated matters. Courthouses will begin on July 13 to gradually expand those matters that it will hear both in person and virtually. On August 10, the list of designated matters that the District Court is hearing is expected to expand even further. We will continue to update the public here.

Non-Criminal FAQs

Q. What non-criminal matters are the District Courts hearing during this phase of the public health crisis?

A. Below is the list of designated civil business the District Courts are hearing during this phase of the public health crisis. Note: this designated civil business will be handled virtually, not in-person. 

  • abuse prevention orders pursuant to G.L. c. 209A;
  • harassment prevention orders pursuant to G.L. c. 258E;
  • extreme risk protection orders pursuant to G.L. c. 140, §§ 131R-131Y;
  • all mental health matters brought pursuant to G.L. c. 123, except for a petition pursuant to G.L. c. 123, § 12(e) or § 35, (which are conducted in-person);
  • motions to remove or modify wage attachments and payment orders;
  • motions to stay executions on a judgment of possession of a residential or small business premises unit as set forth in the moratorium on evictions and foreclosures signed into law by the Governor of the Commonwealth on April 20, 2020, St. 2020, c. 65; 
  • motions for temporary restraining orders pursuant to G.L. c. 186, § 14; 
  • pre-trial events in civil actions, including case management conferences and the hearing of dispositive motions. 
  • each regional administrative justice shall identify judges in their region who will be assigned and available to provide virtual settlement conferences for any regular civil cases, where litigants wish to do so.  To the extent that a judge provides such alternative dispute resolution services, that judge shall not rule on any dispositive motions or conduct the trial in the matter, should such event occur.
  • small claims trials are continued until September 8, 2020, unless the parties agree to conduct a trial virtually.  Courts shall, however, support the availability of virtual mediation for small claims trials and, for claims for collection of a debt, volunteer lawyers’ programs where available.
  • other civil matters deemed an emergency by a judge or clerk-magistrate.

Q.  How do I obtain a protection order (either an emergency abuse prevention order (also called a restraining order), a harassment prevention order, or extreme risk protection order)?

A. During court hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., persons in need of a protection order should contact their local court by telephone (telephone contact information is on the court location page). The court will obtain all necessary information from you and arrange an immediate hearing with a judge by video conference or by telephone. If circumstances warrant, you should not hesitate to contact the police directly. If you need to obtain a protection order 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 the SafeLink toll-free 24/7 hotline (877) 785-2020.

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

A.  All protection orders that are due to expire will remain in effect until the matter is heard by a judge on the scheduled hearing date. You will be notified of a future hearing date by the court for a telephone or videoconference hearing. You must call in on the date and time listed in the notice 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?

A. You may file a petition directly in the Clerk’s Office. Alternatively, you may contact either your local court by telephone, or the court where you believe the person is currently located, to discuss the filing of a petition without having to come to court as well as other options that may be available in the current health crisis (telephone contact information is on the court location page). 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?

A.  You may file a petition directly in the Clerk’s Office.  Alternatively, you may contact either your local court by telephone, or the court where you believe the person is currently located, to discuss the filing of a petition without having to come to court as well as other options that may be available in the current health crisis (telephone contact information is on the court location page). If you feel that there is an immediate danger you should contact your local police or emergency services.

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

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

Even if a court which scheduled a telephonic hearing is temporarily closed, the virtual hearing will nonetheless proceed as scheduled.

Q.  Can I access my case online?

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

A.  By order of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, all jury trials have been continued to a date on or after September 8, 2020. 

If your trial is a civil case  and the court decides 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 by videoconference. 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. Court contact pages are found here. 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 have a hearing date. Will it be held?

A.  If your case is not on the list of civil matters that the court will hear virtually, it will be be re-scheduled to some date on or after August 10, 2020, unless the court determines that it has the resources to hear it before then. You will receive notice from the court with the next hearing date. You should con 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.

Q.  I am a party in a small claims case. Will it be held? 

A.  Small claims trials will be rescheduled to a date after September 8, 2020, unless both parties have the ability to have their trial held by video conference and agree to do so. 

Criminal FAQs

Q. What criminal matters are the District Courts hearing during this phase of the public health crisis?

A.  The District Court is hearing all criminal matters, except jury trials, either virtually or in-person. The events being held in-person are listed in Section I, above, and the following is the list of criminal matters that are to be handled virtually:

  • applications for arrest warrants;
  • probation detention hearings of persons in custody, unless the detention hearing arises during the arraignment or as a direct result of the arraignment, which, in such case, shall be conducted in person;
  • probation violation hearings of persons, unless a judge orders an in-person hearing;
  • pre-trial criminal matters (for persons both in custody and not in custody), including tenders of pleas and admissions (unless ordered to be conducted in person by the judge);
  • emergency motions for review or release of persons in custody, including those subject to District Court Standing Order 4-20;
  • motions for funds for social workers and others necessary to put in place release plans for those who are being held pretrial, those who are civilly committed for substance abuse treatment, and those who are serving a committed sentence, as set forth in Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court (No. 2), 484 Mass. 1029 (April 28, 2020);
  • other criminal matters deemed an emergency by a judge or clerk-magistrate, except where the emergency matter cannot be handled virtually because a virtual proceeding is not practicable or would be inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights;
  • mental health matters in connection with a pending criminal case pursuant to G.L. c. 123, §§ 15 & 16, except for those that a judge orders to be conducted in-person. 

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

A.  Persons who have been arrested and bailed should appear in court in person on the date in the recognizance slip for their arraignment.  

If you have a court date listed for an event that is on the list of matters to be conducted in-person, it will be held as scheduled. If you have a court date listed for an event that is on the list of matters to be conducted virtually, it will be held virtually as scheduled. You should check with your attorney regarding the status of your case as he or she may be able to look up the 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 contact pages.

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

A.  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?

A.  Bail may be posted in person in the Clerk’s Office. 

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

A.  You may enter the courthouse to address the warrant in-person.

Q.  Can I still have my criminal record expunged?

A.  Expungement Petitions are not among the designated matters the Court is hearing during this public health crisis 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 contact pages.

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

A.  By order of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, all jury trials have been continued to a date after September 8, 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?

A.  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 contact pages.

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

A.  No fees or fines can be paid at a courthouse at this time. Payment due dates have been extended to August 14, 2020. If you wish, you can make a payment online using the ePay System, by visiting ePay in the Courts.

Additional Resources

Last updated: July 15, 2020
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