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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 November 9, 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 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. The court is 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 are set forth below.

If you are unsure whether to appear at court in-person, you should contact the local district court by telephone or by calling the Trial Court call center at 833-91COURT.

If unable to appear in person due to COVID related reasons, or if you want to request to appear virtually at a scheduled in-person hearing, contact the court where you are due to appear. You will find the main number to the courthouse listed on each of the District Court location information pages.

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

A.

  • Petitions for substance use disorder commitments (G.L. c. 123, § 35);
  • Petitions for mental health commitments (G.L. c. 123, § 12(e));
  • Abuse Prevention Orders (G.L. c. 209A);
  • Harassment Prevention Orders (G.L. c. 258E);
  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders (G.L. c. 140, §§ 131R-131Y);
  • Show Cause hearings (unless the clerk determines to conduct virtually)
  • Warrant Removals;
  • Criminal Arraignments;
  • Criminal Evidentiary Hearing on motion or request

Entry into a District Court courthouse is also permitted for conducting in-person business with a Clerk’s Office, and meeting with a probation officer or staff person.

Q.  I need an interpreter. What do I do?

A. To request an interpreter, contact the court or call the Trial Court Helpline at 1-833-91COURT (1-833-912-6878).

Q.  Who may enter the courthouse?

A. Persons attending an in-person court event, as identified above, persons conducting in-person business in the Clerk’s Office, and persons meeting with a probation officer or staff.  If the number of court users entering a courthouse needs to be limited to avoid exceeding occupancy limits, the following court users shall be given priority to enter in the following order:  (1) persons seeking to address emergencies, including posting and return of bail; (2) persons participating in a scheduled in-person proceeding; (3) persons scheduled to meet with a probation officer; (4) persons having a scheduled appointment within the courthouse, and then, (5) all others. 

All persons in the courthouse are expected to abide by that courthouse’s protocols governing entry into and presence within the courthouse. 

Q.  Are masks required to enter a courthouse?

A. Yes, all persons in the courthouse over the age of two are required to wear a mask or cloth face, and entry will only be admitted to persons after a screening for COVID-19 symptoms or exposure.  If seeking entry to a courthouse but you are unable to wear a mask due to a medical condition, the Trial Court’s ADA Coordinator should be contacted at reasonableaccommodations@jud.state.ma.us

Q.  Who is allowed to be in the courtroom during an in-person event? 

A. Court personnel, attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons (including family members) 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

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.  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 can download Zoom on either a computer, table or smart phone and “join a meeting” by entering the meeting ID and password if necessary.

View the detailed tips guide here. 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 calling or by email – contact information can be found on the District Court location information pages.

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

A. 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.  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.  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 after October 23, 2020. If you are scheduled for jury duty before October 23, your jury duty has been cancelled. You will not be summoned again until 2021, at the earliest.

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.

  • 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;
  • Summary process actions.
  • 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, at the discretion of the court.   
  • other civil matters deemed an emergency by a judge or clerk-magistrate.

Protection Order FAQs

Q. How do I obtain a protection order during court business hours?

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 for the courts that serve your city or town can be found through the courthouse locator on Mass.gov). The court will obtain all necessary information from you and arrange an immediate hearing with a judge by videoconference or by telephone. Courts are also open to accept applications in person.  If circumstances warrant, you should not hesitate to contact the police directly.

Q. How do I obtain a protection order when the court is closed?

A.  If you need to obtain a protection order outside of court hours, you should contact your police department directly and may do so by phone. If an order is issued, the court will notify you of the date and time for a follow up hearing after notice to the defendant.

Q. What information will I need to provide to the court during the application process for a protection order?

A. You will be asked to provide information to complete the application package for the type of protection order you are requesting. This may include, but is not limited to information such as:  the nature of your relationship with the defendant; contact information for both you and the defendant; the nature of the abuse or harassment that occurred; whether or not either you or the defendant are under the age of 18; whether or not the defendant possesses any guns, ammunition, firearms identification cards, and/or a license to carry; and, what relief you are requesting from the court, meaning what are you asking the judge to order.

Q. I have a protection order that has a two-party hearing scheduled.  How do I know if I should appear in person or virtually?

A. Hearings may be in person or virtual (by phone or by videoconference). The court will let you know if you should appear in person or virtually. They may contact you by U.S. mail, email, or phone.  They will also let the other parties in your case know if the hearing will take place in person or virtually.

Q. Do I have to participate in follow up hearings about my protection order?

A. If you want the current protection order to continue you must participate in the hearing on the date and time listed in the notice. 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 any future hearing dates by the court for any in person or virtual hearings.

Q. If my hearing is in person, am I allowed to bring my cellphone?

A. Yes.  During the public health crisis, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has instructed that parties will be allowed to bring their cellphones with them into courthouses.

Q. What do I need to bring or have with me for the hearing?

A. Whether you are told to appear in person or virtually, you should share anything you believe to be relevant that will enable the judge to make a decision. This could include, but is not limited to, text messages, voicemails, or photos.  Contact the court if you would like to present evidence through a witness, with documents, or with photos.  At the hearing, the judge or judicial officer will decide if any witnesses will be allowed to testify.

Q. I need an interpreter.  What do I do?

To request an interpreter, contact the court or call the Trial Court Helpline at 1-833-91COURT (1-833-912-6878). You can also let court staff know that you will need an interpreter during your initial application.

Q. Who is allowed to be in the courtroom for protection order hearings during the public health emergency?

A. Court personnel, attorneys, parties, witnesses, advocates, 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.

Q. My protection order hearing will take place virtually, who else will be on the telephone or video call?

A. All individuals typically physically present in a courtroom will also participate in virtual hearings.  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. My protection order hearing is scheduled to take place in person, but I have COVID-19 related concerns. How do I request to appear virtually?

A. Judges may, upon request, authorize a participant (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. To request to appear for your hearing virtually, please call the court to ask how you should make this request. You may need to make your request to the clerk or register or file a motion with the judge.

Q. Where can I find more information about available resources and assistance?

A. There are various agencies that can provide support. Community based advocacy or crisis agencies can connect you with advocates who offer free and confidential services. SAFEPLAN Advocates are court-based and can assist with restraining order applications. Victim Witness Advocates work for the local District Attorney’s Office and can answer questions about any pending criminal matters involving violence against you. Child Witness to Violence programs can help if you are concerned about your child(ren)’s behavior as related to the impact of violence or stress in the home. Intimate Partner Abuse Education Programs can help people who are committed to changing their pattern of abusive behavior find the support they need to get their lives back on track.  Please visit the Court System Response to COVID Domestic and Sexual Violence webpage for more information.

Evictions (Summary Process Cases) FAQs

Q. Are the Courts hearing eviction cases right now? 

A. Yes, the statewide moratorium on evictions ended on October 16, and as of October 19, 2020, the Court will be hearing those summary process cases that were pending when the moratorium took effect as well as accepting for filing new summary process cases.

Q. Will eviction cases be heard virtually or in-person? 

A. Eviction cases will be heard virtually. 

Q.  Are there any changes to how a landlord should begin a case to evict a tenant?

A.  Yes.  Under the District Court’s standing order on evictions, a landlord will no longer select the trial date and notify the tenant of the date on the Summons and Complaint.  Instead, the court will accept the filing and then notify the parties of the date of the hearing. 

Q. What will happen on the first date that I am told to appear in court?   

A. The first event that will take place when you appear in court will be a Case Management Conference. On October 6, 2020, the District Court issued a standing order that requires that the first date for both pending and newly filed cases will be a case management conference, during which the court may:

  • Refer the case for mediation screening so that the parties may consider whether they would prefer to negotiate a solution rather than have a trial.  Generally, the District Court’s mediation programs are prepared to offer virtual mediation sessions.
  • Allow the court to ensure the parties are aware of an Order issued by the Centers for Disease Control that prohibits the eviction of certain residents. For more information view the Trial Court FAQs about the CDC moratorium order
  • Allow the court to ensure the parties are aware of rental assistance programs and the status of any applications for such assistance. Get more information on rental assistance programs or call 2-1-1 for assistance.
  • Schedule motions, discovery deadlines, and narrow factual or legal issues when possible.
  • Continue cases for mediation or for other reasons in order to assist the parties with resolving the dispute. The court may also establish a trial date.

Q. Will the CDC eviction moratorium impact my case? 

A. It depends. The Center for Disease Control has issued a moratorium on evictions for certain non-payment of rent cases. In order to fall within the CDC eviction moratorium, a tenant is required to file a CDC “Declaration” with their landlord certifying that they meet the moratorium criteria. If the tenant files a Declaration with their landlord and meets the eligibility criteria, then the court may not issue the legal document permitting that a person be removed from a premises. This document is called an “execution.” For a full explanation, view the Trial Court FAQs about the CDC moratorium order.  

Q. I am a landlord in an eviction case, do I have any obligation with respect to the CDC moratorium and my eviction case? 

A. Yes, under District Court Standing Order 10-20, a plaintiff in a summary process action for non-payment of rent must file an affidavit on the day the plaintiff files the complaint, or before the case management conference if the case is presently pending. The affidavit states whether the plaintiff has received a CDC Declaration from the defendant. The plaintiff must again file an affidavit prior to the entry of judgment and prior to the entry of execution. View the Plaintiff's Affidavit Concerning CDC Order

Q. Does District Court Standing Order 10-20 apply to commercial evictions?

A. Yes. 

Civil Commitment FAQs

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 District Court location information pages). 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 District Court location information pages). If you feel that there is an immediate danger you should contact your local police or emergency services.

General Civil FAQs

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.

If a court which scheduled a virtual hearing is temporarily closed, the virtual hearing may still 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 October 23, 2020.

If your trial is a civil case and the case will be decided after 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.

Q. I have a hearing date for a case that is not on either the in-person or virtual hearing list. 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 re-scheduled to a future date, 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 contact your attorney, if you have one, or the Clerk’s Office by using the general email address or main phone number which can be found on each of the District Court location information pages. Please note that courts are operating with reduced staff due to the coronavirus.

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

A. Small claims trials are being held in the discretion of the Clerk-Magistrate of the courthouse in which your case has been filed. You will receive a notice in the mail from the Clerk’s Office regarding the scheduling of your case. Cases that have been scheduled for a trial will be held virtually, unless one of the parties objects to a virtual hearing, in which case the trial will be re-scheduled to a future date in which the parties can appear in person.

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 information 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 information 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 October 23, 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 information 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 November 1, 2020. If you wish, you can make a payment online using the ePay System, by visiting ePay in the Courts.

Last updated: November 9, 2020
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