Due to the extreme risk of person to person transmission caused by the 2019 novel Coronavirus “COVID-19”, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and which has occasioned the declaration of a State of Emergency in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Executive Order No. 591: Declaration of a State of Emergency to Respond to COVID-19, and a National Emergency by the President of the United States, and Supreme Judicial Court Order OE-144, I hereby invoke the authority granted to me by G. L. c. 211B, § 10 to promulgate this Standing Order to protect the public health by reducing the risk of exposure to the virus and slowing the spread of the disease.
To maintain consistency among the Divisions of the Probate and Family Court, this Standing Order shall supersede any administrative or scheduling protocols previously instituted by any Division of the Probate and Family Court in response to the COVID-19 virus, as well as Standing Order 1 – 20.
It is hereby ORDERED, effective April 6, 2020, that between the normal business hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. the divisions of the Probate and Family Court shall operate subject to the following temporary, emergency conditions. Until at least May 4, 2020, the Probate and Family Court shall remain open solely to address emergency matters that cannot be resolved virtually (i.e., by telephone, videoconference, email, or comparable means, or through the electronic filing system), either because it is not practicable or would be inconsistent with the protection of constitutional rights. The Registry shall continue to conduct court business, i.e., to accept the filing of pleadings and other documents in emergency matters, to schedule and facilitate hearings in emergency matters, to issue orders in emergency matters, to answer questions from attorneys, litigants, and the general public, and to conduct other necessary business of the respective court. All such business will be conducted virtually, except when the filing of pleadings and other documents in emergency matters cannot be accomplished virtually. Emergency matters are included in Section B, Section C (3), Section E, and Section F (1), (2), and (3) of this Standing Order. Apart from the exception stated in Section C (2), entry into the courthouse for the purpose of emergency in-person proceedings shall be limited to attorneys, parties, witnesses, and other necessary persons as determined by the assigned judge, plus not more than three members of the “news media” as defined in Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19(2).
A. Telephonic/videoconference/“virtual” hearings
Whenever practical and possible, the Court shall conduct hearings by telephone or videoconference rather than having people appear in person or rescheduling event dates.
D. New filings
Except where matters are deemed essential and necessitate court action, parties shall file new matters by mail, email, or e-filing where available. Filings will be docketed, but no event shall be scheduled before May 5, 2020.
E. Emergency case types/events
Emergency situations not addressed below or in Section B above will be considered on a case-by-case basis. If a person arrives at the courthouse with a matter they deem an emergency, that matter shall be brought to a Judicial Case Manager, an Assistant Judicial Case Manager, an Assistant Register, a Magistrate, or other designated staff member to determine whether the matter is an emergency or whether the person can be helped in another way.
The below actions/case types have been identified as emergency matters and may be filed and shall be heard, unless the Court requires notice:
- Petitions/motions seeking a Do Not Resuscitate/Do Not Intubate/Comfort Measures Only (DNR/DNI/CMO) order, authorization for medical treatment order, or order for antipsychotic medication;
- Petitions seeking appointment of a temporary guardian or conservator;
- Petitions pursuant to G. L. c. 19A, § 7 and G. L. c. 19C, § 20 – protective services;
- Health Care Proxy actions;
- Petitions/Motions for Appointment of Special Personal Representative;
- Petitions for marriage without delay;
- Complaints for Dependency (SIJS) if the child will turn 21 prior to May 5, 2020;
- All requests for injunctive relief;
- Motions for temporary orders where exceptional/exigent circumstances have been demonstrated; and
- Contempt actions where exceptional/exigent circumstances have been demonstrated.
This Standing Order does not affect the Probate and Family Court’s ability to consider matters that can be resolved without in-person proceedings through communication by telephone, videoconferencing, email, or other comparable means.
I. Amendment and extension of Standing Order 2 – 20, as amended April 6, 2020
The Probate and Family Court will amend, allow to expire, or extend this Standing Order no later than May 4, 2020.