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Superior Court frequently asked questions concerning COVID-19

Frequently asked questions about the Superior Court's procedures in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19). Updated July 1, 2020.

Table of Contents

General FAQs

 Q. When will the courts open?

The courts are currently open for business but courthouses are closed to the public for in-person hearings except to address certain emergency matters. For other matters, hearings are being held virtually, that is, by videoconference or telephone conference, where feasible and consistent with constitutional rights. To learn what matters are being heard in person and what matters are being heard virtually, see Superior Court Standing Order 8-20: Third Updated Protocol Governing Superior Court Operations During the Coronavirus (COVID-19) Pandemic (effective July 1, 2020) (S.O. 8-20)  

Over the next few months, the courthouses will gradually open for more in-person activity. Beginning on July 13, 2020, the following proceedings may be held in person:

Criminal matters:

  • arraignments
  • guilty pleas
  • bench trials
  • evidentiary hearings on motions
  • evidentiary hearings on contested probation violations.

Civil matters:

  • bench trials
  • evidentiary hearings.

Beginning on August 10, 2020, the court may hear additional matters in person. If so, the court will list those matters on the Court System Response to COVID-19 webpage.

Q. Who can enter a courthouse? 

Between July 1 and July 12, 2020, besides court personnel, the only persons allowed to enter a courthouse are attorneys; parties; witnesses; other persons whom the judge determines are necessary to a proceeding; up to three members of the news media (but not for Mary Moe proceedings); and persons requiring installation, maintenance, or removal of a GPS or remote alcohol monitoring device — provided these persons are not prohibited from entering the courthouse by the Supreme Judicial Court’s Order Regarding Access to State Courthouses & Court Facilities, dated March 13, 2020, or any successor order of the SJC concerning access to courthouses.

Beginning on July 13, 2020, the following additional persons will be allowed to enter a courthouse: those conducting in-person business with a Clerk’s Office; those meeting with a probation officer or staff person; and those conducting business at other offices that are open to the public and housed in the courthouse.

For information about physical entry to a courthouse and the measures that will be taken to ensure the safety of courthouse visitors, see S.O. 8-20, Part. II(B) and (C).

Q. Can I bring a cell phone or other personal electronic device into a courthouse?

Beginning on July 13, 2020, cell phones and other personal electronic devices (such as computers, tablets, and Bluetooth devices) are permitted in a courthouse, but you must follow the rules governing use of these devices in Trial Court Emergency Administrative Order 20-10 (Order Concerning Trial Court Policy on Possession & Use of Cameras & Personal Electronic Devices).

Q. How can I file something in Superior Court? 

Clerks’ Offices accept pleadings and other documents by regular mail, by eFiling (in counties that accept eFiling), and by email in emergency matters. Email can be used to file documents in non-emergency matters only where the specific Clerk’s Office allows filing by email. To learn each Clerk’s Office’s policy on filing by email in non-emergency matters, see the Court System Response to Covid-19 webpage. Email addresses for Clerks’ Offices are located on the Superior Court location contact pages; click on the county you are looking for to access the email address.

Beginning on July 13, 2020, Clerks’ Offices will physically reopen to the public to conduct court business but, to the extent possible, will continue to conduct business virtually to maintain limits on the numbers of persons entering courthouses.

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

The best way to communicate directly with a specific county Clerk’s Office is to email the office using the email provided on the relevant Superior Court location contact page. You may also call the Clerk’s Office during regular court hours, which are posted on the contact page.

Beginning on July 13, 2020, Clerks’ Offices will physically reopen to the public to conduct court business but, to the extent possible, will continue to conduct business virtually to maintain limits on the numbers of persons entering courthouses.

Q. How long will this pandemic affect court business? 

Until at least September 2020, and maybe longer. Information about postponed trials and case deadlines can be found in S.O. 8-20.

Q. Can I access my case online?

Certain case types listed below can be accessed and viewed via MassCourts

Civil case types:

  • Administrative civil actions
  • Actions involving the state/ municipality
  • Business litigation
  • Civil actions with incarcerated party
  • Contract/business cases
  • Equitable remedies
  • Miscellaneous civil actions
  • Real property
  • SDP - determination
  • SDP - exam & discharge
  • Torts

Criminal case types:

  • Bail petitions*
  • Criminal complaints*
  • Indictments*
  • Legacy SDP (only Suffolk Criminal)*
  • Probation transfers*

*Note — for criminal case types you must have your exact docket number.

Find additional information on what can be accessed online on the Search Court Dockets, Calendars and Case Information page.

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

All jury trials, in both criminal and civil cases, are postponed until September 8, 2020. If you are scheduled for service before Tuesday, September 8, your service has been cancelled. You won’t be summoned again until 2021, at the earliest. If you’re scheduled to appear for service on Tuesday, September 8, or later, you’re on Standby, meaning you may or may not have to serve, unless you received a cancellation notice from the Office of the Jury Commissioner. You’ll receive more information from the Office of Jury Commissioner about your service as your date gets closer.

Civil FAQs

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

Generally, hearings in emergency matters will be held virtually, that is, by videoconference or telephone conference, unless the judge determines that an in-person hearing is required.

For non-emergency matters, hearings will be held virtually, to the extent feasible with available staffing, if ordered by the court. Such non-emergency matters will include:

  • Rule 16 conferences
  • final pre-trial conferences
  • status conferences
  • hearings on non-evidentiary motions.

Virtual public access to a hearing ordinarily open to the public will be made available on request to the relevant Clerk’s Office. For information on when a hearing will be held virtually or in person, see S.O. 8-20, Part I.

Q. What constitutes an emergency?

Under S.O. 8-20, Part I(B)(1), and Part I(G)(2) & (G)(4), the following are civil emergencies:

  • Mary Moe petitions (hearing is presumptively held in person, unless judge determines otherwise, on request of counsel for the minor)
  • 209A and 258E petitions
  • probable cause determinations for sexually dangerous person cases (virtual hearing; if probable cause is found, then respondent has the right to a later in-person hearing when feasible)
  • actions concerning compelled isolation or quarantine
  • temporary restraining orders
  • any matter a judge determines requires an in-person hearing because any other method is not practicable or is inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights. This situation will be rare.

Note: The Judge will determine IF a hearing will be conducted, and, if so, how it will be conducted.

Q. What if I have an emergency?

How your emergency request will be handled may vary by county. Please contact the relevant Clerk’s Office by using the general email address or main phone number to find out who will handle your request. Email information is located on each of the Superior Court location contact pages; click on the county you are looking for to access the email address. In general, papers will be reviewed by the Emergency Judge. The judge will determine IF a hearing will be conducted, and, if so, how it will be conducted. If there will be a hearing, it may be scheduled to occur by video or telephone, rather than in person. The judge may decide the issue based on the filings.

Q. Will the pleadings that I file be docketed?

Yes, but there may be delays due to limited staffing. If a filing is received or docketed after a deadline, the clerk will use discretion regarding the delayed circumstances to favor the filer.

Q. Will 9A motions and other matters not requiring a hearing be addressed by the Judge?

Currently, all court staffing is limited. There may be delays, but our judges and staff will address any open matters.

Q. Can I speak with the clerk in the session?

Because of limited staffing, the best way to reach the assistant clerk or the session clerk is to send a message to the relevant county's group email box. Email information is located on each of the Superior Court location contact pages; click on the county you are looking for to access the email address.

Q. I have a deadline pending in a case. Does the deadline still apply?

A. If the deadline is required by statute, court rule, standing order, tracking order, or guideline, and a judge in your specific case has not ordered otherwise, then, if the deadline would expire before June 30, 2020, the deadline is extended to at least July 1, 2020, and may be extended beyond that date if, as of March 17, 2020, the original deadline had not yet expired. To calculate the new deadline, count the number of days from, and including, March 17 to the original deadline. Take that number and add it to July 1 for the new deadline date. See S.O. 8-20, Part V(F).

B. If the deadline was set by a judge in your specific case before March 17, 2020, and that deadline would expire before June 30, 2020, the deadline is extended to at least July 1, 2020, and may be extended beyond that date if, as of March 17, 2020, the original deadline had not yet expired — unless the judge orders otherwise. To calculate the new deadline, count the number of days from, and including March 17 to the original deadline. Take that number and add it to July 1 for the new deadline date.  If, however, the deadline was set by a judge on or after March 17, 2020, the deadline is not extended. See S.O. 8-20, Part V(G).

C. Injunction orders that were issued before March 17, 2020, after an adversarial hearing, and were set to expire between March 17, 2020, and August 31, 2020, remain in effect until the matter is rescheduled and heard — unless otherwise ordered by the court. Orders issued on or after March 17, 2020, after an adversarial hearing, may issue for the full period allowed by the applicable statute. See S.O. 8-20, Part V(H). You should contact the Clerk’s Office to schedule a new hearing date.

Criminal FAQs

Q. When is my case on, and do I have to appear?

Between July 1 and July 12, 2020, courthouses are generally closed to the public for in-person hearings, but the following emergency matters are being conducted virtually, that is, by videoconference or telephone conference, unless noted otherwise:

  • bail reviews
  • bail determinations following arrest or surrender pursuant to a Superior Court warrant
  • wiretap warrants (in-person application)
  • dangerousness hearings under G. L. c. 276, § 58A (virtual hearing; if court orders detention, then defendant has the right to a later in-person hearing when feasible)
  • probable cause hearings for sexual dangerousness under G. L. c. 123A, § 12 (virtual hearing; if probable cause is found, then respondent has the right to a later in-person hearing when feasible)
  • Other matters will be heard in person only when a judge, after consulting with the Clerk, the parties, Security, and Probation, finds that the matter can’t be resolved by videoconference or telephone conference, either because such a hearing isn’t practicable or because it would be inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights. 
  • Non-emergency matters will be heard by video or telephone, to the extent feasible with available staffing, if ordered by the court. Such matters include:
    • conferences
    • hearings on non-evidentiary motions
    • arraignments, if the defendant waives his or her physical presence or, if defendant does not waive his or her physical presence, then the defendant may exercise the right to have an in-person hearing on bail, to be held when feasible
    • guilty pleas, if the defendant waives his or her physical presence and the judge finds that the defendant can and does make a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights, including the right to physical presence.

Beginning on July 13, 2020, the following proceedings may be held in person:

  • arraignments
  • guilty pleas
  • bench trials
  • evidentiary hearings on motions
  • evidentiary hearings on contested probation violations.

If your court date is after the courts are scheduled to reopen to the public, on July 13, you should check back with the Clerk’s Office closer to your court date. It is possible that the closure will be extended. You should consult with your lawyer, who can tell you what is likely to happen on your next court date.

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

Yes, if the bail was set in District Court, bail reviews in Superior Court are being scheduled and conducted by videoconference. These bail reviews are being scheduled through the courts. You may want to contact the lawyer for your family member. If the bail was set in a Superior Court case, the lawyer for your family member should be contacted to schedule a bail hearing.

Q. My family member is ready to post bail, but they have an order requiring GPS prior to their release. My family member is not being transported to court. Can I get this GPS condition changed so they can post bail?

It is possible that the court may change a bail condition. However, it will require a hearing. You should contact the lawyer to see how to proceed.

Installations, maintenance, or removals of GPS or remote alcohol monitoring equipment may occur in the courthouse, to ensure security and access to personal protective equipment by probation personnel.

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

Between July 1 and July 12, 2020, courthouses generally are open for emergency matters only. Public access is tightly restricted. If you wish, you can make a payment online using the ePay System. If you cannot pay at this time, please contact your probation officer.

Beginning on July 13, 2020, Clerks’ Offices will physically reopen to the public to conduct court business but, to the extent possible, will continue to conduct business virtually to maintain limits on the numbers of persons entering courthouses.

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 Superior Court 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 Superior Court location contact pages; click on the county you are looking for to access the email address.

Q. Is the Superior Court still conducting dangerousness hearings (G. L. c. 276, § 58A)?

Yes. If a defendant is ordered detained after a § 58A hearing by videoconference or telephone conference, the defendant will have the right to an in-person hearing when feasible. Until then, however, the court will schedule § 58A hearings by videoconference or telephone conference.

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

All jury trials have been continued to a date no earlier than 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?

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 videoconference or telephone conference will be arranged.

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Last updated: July 1, 2020
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