MAAPL Coordinator, Grace Ross, has provided an update to the COVID-related court information posted on the MAAPL website. Her summary of this information is posted below:
Massachusetts courts will remain physically closed until July 13 and will reopen in two phases. Between now and July 13 and beyond, they are doing emergency matters either virtually or, if absolutely necessary, in person.
Key changes: the new order recognizes that if a pro se litigant will be disadvantaged by a virtual teleconference hearing, they have to find a different means, which is awesome!
Second, cell phones are back. In any courthouse you’re allowed to bring in your cellphone (and PEDs). MAAPL is worried that lawyers are going use their computers to try to do legal research during court hearings, which they are not allowed to do. We think that folks who are pro se probably should refuse to be part of any virtual meeting unless there’s an order by the Judge that the lawyers are not allowed to do legal research as the argument progresses. That should be a general requirement, but we strongly suggest that you ask that order of the Judge if you are going to participate in a virtual court hearing.
After July 13 they are reserving the right to do “screening” of everyone who comes into a court building. They do not identify what that is.
The moratorium on eviction cases moving forward, we expect it will be in place until August 18; there is discussion about the Legislature extending it. In relationship to the courts being opened nothing should move forward against you in an eviction case.
We believe that the Legislature never meant for your ability to defend yourself to be postponed; so, if you can move forward, we recommend you proceed. You can do other emergency issues like code violations and things like that in Housing Court; please do not hold off on emergency health and safety matters.
As for other courts besides Housing Court, when your next piece is due is a little confusing. Jury trials will not be scheduled until September 8 or later. Bench trials can be held virtually or in person starting on July 13. The Judge can decide who is allowed to be in the courtroom.
The tricky thing is when your next filing is due. What determines due dates? If what determines the due date is a statute of limitations, the number of days you had left on your statute of limitations as of March 17 will then begin, being counted on July 1. The same is true if the deadline is set out in statute or court rules, standard orders or guidelines.
So, if you’re in the Appeals Court and you had a brief due between March 17 and July 1, based on a court deadline whatever days counted to hit that deadline should restart on July 1.
So, for those of you who have reply briefs due between March 17 and June 30: because the other side had put in their appellee brief after March17, you have 14 days after the appellee brief comes in but based on this order your reply brief would then be due 14 days after July 1.
Except, if the deadline was set specifically by court order in your case; then it is due on July 1st unless the deadline is later. I think that means those of you who put in notices to the court saying that your brief would have been due except there was a further deadline and could you have time? That now means that the court might say we gave you until July 3. You should contact the Court and clarify that if you hadn’t asked for a clarification you would have had until whatever it is; in the example above, July 15th. So, for those of you who were responsible and were communicating with the court about clarifying the extension of your deadlines, I would probably contact the court; point out that under this order you would have had more time if you have not communicated and that, therefore, you’re requesting the new additional deadline otherwise you end up with less time because you were responsible about communicating with the court.
This is a summary of both the Trial Court order (the administrative side of the courts) and the SJC order. The Trial Court clarification says that it supersedes all other court’s own orders which means it should supersede the last orders from the Appeals Court that were different than the SJC and shorter and confusing. So, even if you’re in the Appeals Court you are covered under the orders. Links to orders so you can read them yourself.
As a reminder again, these rules only apply to Massachusetts state court. These are not the rules that apply to federal courts.