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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 November 23, 2020.

Table of Contents

General FAQs

 Q. Are the courts open?

The courts are open for business but continue to hear most civil and criminal matters virtually, i.e., by telephone, videoconference, email, or through the electronic filing system, where available. 

Civil matters will be heard as follows, unless otherwise ordered:

Virtual hearings:
  • Motions submitted under Superior Court Rule 9A
  • Rule 16 conferences
  • Final pre-trial conferences
  • Status conferences
  • Hearings on non-evidentiary motions
  • Probable cause hearings for sexual dangerousness, under G. L. c. 123A, § 12 (if a judge finds probable cause, after a hearing by videoconference or telephone, the respondent has the right to an in-person hearing when possible) 
  • Actions concerning ordered isolation or quarantine under Superior Court Administrative Directive 20–1 (Protocol Governing Actions to Enforce Isolation or Quarantine Orders)
  • Requests for temporary restraining orders
  • Proceedings under G. L. c. 209A (abuse prevention orders) and G. L. c. 258E (harassment prevention orders). Virtual hearings will be conducted by videoconference unless impracticable, in which case the hearing may be conducted by telephone
In-person hearings:
  • Proceedings under G. L. c. 112, § 12S (“Mary Moe” petitions) will be heard in person, unless, on request of counsel for the minor, a judge determines that, in the circumstances, it is necessary to conduct the proceeding by videoconference or telephone.
  • Bench trials 
  • Evidentiary hearings 

Criminal matters will be heard as follows, unless otherwise ordered:

Virtual hearings:
  • Arraignment if the defendant is in custody
  • Bail reviews
  • Bail determinations following arrest or surrender pursuant to a Superior Court warrant
  • Dangerousness hearings, under G. L. c. 276, § 58A, if neither party informs the court prior to the hearing that such party plans to call one or more witnesses.  
  • Conferences
  • Hearings on non-evidentiary motions
  • Guilty pleas, if the defendant waives physical presence and the judge finds the defendant can and does make a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights including the right to physical presence. 
In-person hearings:
  • Arraignments if the defendant is not in custody
  • Dangerousness hearings, under G. L. c. 276, § 58A, if either party informs the court before the hearing that such party plans to call one or more witnesses
  • Guilty pleas
  • Bench trials
  • Evidentiary hearings on motions
  • Evidentiary hearings on contested probation violations.

For more information on what matters are being heard in person and what matters are being heard virtually, see Superior Court Standing Order 9–20: Fourth Updated Protocol Governing Superior Court Operations During the Coronavirus (COVID–19) Pandemic (effective October 1, 2020) (S.O. 9–20), Parts I & II.  
 

Q. Who can enter a courthouse? 

Besides people who work in the courthouse, the only persons allowed to enter a courthouse are those attending an in-person court hearing; conducting in-person business with a Clerk’s Office; reporting for jury service; meeting with a probation officer or probation staff person; or those who have business at other offices that are open to the public and located in the courthouse. All persons   entering a courthouse will be screened as required by the Supreme Judicial Court’s Third Order Regarding Access to State Courthouses & Court Facilities, effective August 3, 2020, or any amendments or successor orders issued by the SJC.

Rules that explain the number of persons allowed  in a courthouse at any one time are in the Supreme Judicial Court’s Fourth Updated Order Regarding Court Operations Under the Exigent Circumstances Created by the COVID–19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic (effective September 17, 2020) (SJC–Sep. 17 Order), par. 4.
 

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

Courts allow cell phones and other personal electronic devices (such as computers, tablets, and Bluetooth devices) in a courthouse, but you must follow the rules  in Trial Court Emergency Administrative Order 20–10 (Order Concerning Trial Court Policy on Possession & Use of Cameras & Personal Electronic Devices) (effective July 13, 2020), which are posted on the COVID–19 webpage and at the entrance to each courthouse.

Q. How can I file something in Superior Court? 

Clerks’ Offices accept pleadings and other documents by regular mail, by electronic filing or eFiling (in counties that accept eFiling), or, in certain counties, by email or by leaving material in a dropbox in the courthouse. Filing by email and dropboxes is available only where the specific Clerk’s Office allow it . To learn each Clerk’s Office’s policy on filing, 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.

Clerks’ Offices are physically open to the public for court business but, to the extent possible, will continue to do 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.

Clerks’ Offices are physically open to the public for court business but, to the extent possible, will continue to do business virtually to maintain limits on the numbers of persons entering courthouses.

Q. How long will this pandemic affect court business? 

As long as the risk of transmission of COVID–19 remains a public-health concern, the Superior Court will do business in ways that reduce the risk. Information about postponed trials and case deadlines can be found in S.O. 9–20, Parts IV & V.

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 or a municipality
  • Business litigation
  • Civil actions with incarcerated party
  • Contract or business cases
  • Equitable remedies (e.g., injunctions)
  • Miscellaneous civil actions
  • Real property
  • Sexually Dangerous Person—determination
  • Sexually Dangerous Person—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.

You can 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 January 11, 2021. For more information, please contact the Office of Jury Commissioner.

Civil FAQs

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

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

Civil matters that will likely be held virtually, unless you are informed that they are not, are these: 

  • Motions submitted under Superior Court Rule 9A
  • Rule 16 conferences
  • Final pre-trial conferences
  • Status conferences
  • Hearings on non-evidentiary motions
  • Probable cause hearings for sexual dangerousness, under G. L. c. 123A, § 12 — if a judge finds probable cause, after a hearing by videoconference or telephone, the respondent has the right to an in-person hearing when possible 
  • Actions concerning ordered isolation or quarantine pursuant to Superior Court Administrative Directive 20–1 (Protocol Governing Actions to Enforce Isolation or Quarantine Orders)
  • Requests for temporary restraining orders
  • Proceedings pursuant to G. L. c. 209A (abuse prevention orders) and G. L. c. 258E (harassment prevention orders). Virtual hearings shall be conducted by videoconference unless impracticable, in which case the hearing may be conducted by telephone. An in-person hearing may be permitted by a judge if requested by one or more of the parties, or as ordered by a judge.

Civil matters that will or may be held in person are these:

  • Proceedings under G. L. c. 112, § 12S (“Mary Moe” petitions) will be held in person unless, on request of counsel for the minor, a judge determines that, in the circumstances, it is necessary to conduct the proceeding by videoconference or telephone
  • Bench trials and evidentiary hearings may be conducted in person

Public access to hearings which are usually open to the public will be available through designated telephone lines provided on the websites of the Superior Court Clerks’ Offices, unless, in a particular case, access is provided by other means ordered by the court.

For more information about hearings held virtually and in person, see S.O. 9–20, Parts I & II.
 

Q. When will jury trials resume?

Jury trials will start again on January 11, 2021, on a limited basis, following Phase 1 of the resumption of jury trials, as recommended by the Jury Management Advisory Committee (JMAC). Phase 1 trials will occur in a small number of locations, limited to one trial at a time in each location, and will consist of juries of six (plus alternates). Phase 2 of the resumption of jury trials, with certain cases given priority over others according to certain specified criteria, will begin in February 2021. For information on the resumption of jury trials, including the criteria for prioritizing trials in Phase 2, see S.O. 9–20, Part IV(B).

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?

Yes. There may be delays, due to limited court staffing, but our judges and staff will address all open matters.

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

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?

Deadlines set to expire any time between March 17 and June 20, 2020, according to a civil statute of limitations or other statute, court rule, standing order, tracking order, guideline, or order of a judge in a particular case, are postponed from March 17 to July 1, 2020. If, as of March 17, 2020, any days remained before expiration of the limitation period, add that number of days to July 1, 2020, to calculate the new expiration date. See S.O. 9–20, Part V(D). For example, if fourteen (14) days remained as of March 17 before the original deadline would have been reached or the statute of limitation would have expired, then fourteen (14) days continued to remain as of July 1, before the new deadline was reached or the statute of limitation expired (i.e., July 15). 

For information about expiring injunctions and similar orders, see S.O. 9–20, Part V(E).

Criminal FAQs

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

The following matters are being heard virtually:

  • Arraignment if the defendant is in custody
  • Bail reviews
  • Bail determinations following arrest or surrender pursuant to a Superior Court warrant
  • Dangerousness hearings, under G. L. c. 276, § 58A, if neither party informs the court prior to the hearing that such party plans to call one or more witnesses.  
  • Conferences
  • Hearings on non-evidentiary motions
  • Guilty pleas, if the defendant waives physical presence and the judge finds the defendant can and does make a knowing and voluntary waiver of rights including the right to physical presence. 

The following proceedings may be held in person:

  • Arraignments if the defendant is not in custody
  • Dangerousness hearings, under G. L. c. 276, § 58A, if either party informs the court before the hearing that such party plans to call one or more witnesses
  • Guilty pleas
  • Bench trials
  • Evidentiary hearings on motions
  • Evidentiary hearings on contested probation violations.

For more information about hearings held virtually and in person, see S.O. 9–20, Parts I & II.
 

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 heard 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?

Although courthouses are open to the public, physical 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.

Clerks’ Offices are physically open 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. Dangerousness hearings will be held virtually, if neither party informs the court prior to the hearing that such party plans to call one or more witnesses. If, however, either party informs the court before the hearing that they plan to call one or more witnesses, the hearing may be held in person.

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

Jury trials will start again on January 11, 2021, on a limited basis, following Phase 1 of the resumption of jury trials, as recommended by the Jury Management Advisory Committee (JMAC). Phase 1 trials will occur in a small number of locations, limited to one trial at a time in each location, and will consist of juries of six (plus alternates). Phase 2 of the resumption of jury trials, with certain cases given priority over others according to certain specified criteria, will begin in February 2021. For information on the resumption of jury trials, including the criteria for prioritizing trials in Phase 2, see S.O. 9–20, Part IV(B). 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.

Additional Resources

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For more information, please contact the court nearest you. Superior Court locations 
Last updated: November 12, 2020
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