With All of This Uncertainty, What Can We Expect From the Courts?

Within ten days’ time, our personal and professional worlds have been turned upside-down, and many have questions such as, “What happens now to my court case?”. As we adjust to a new “normal” in our homes and our workplaces, the courts, too, are adjusting to their new normal.  Courts have issued orders to address COVID-19, ensuring that the wheels of justice do not come to a screeching halt, placing people’s rights in jeopardy. All court orders, from the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and all Trial Courts can be found here.

  1. The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC).  Our highest court in the state immediately jumped into action and set forth rules and regulations to limit the exposure of COVID-19 and assist in “flattening the curve.”  While this is significantly limiting the number of litigants allowed into the courthouse, there are also exceptions for emergencies.

    The SJC, trying to keep up with the constantly changing landscape issued further orders to help clarify the rules which shape how the Court will do business and embrace technology, including hearings by teleconference.
  1. The Appeals Court.  Taking the CDC’s directive of social distancing seriously, the Appeals court has determined that all oral arguments scheduled for March will be conducted telephonically and the Appeals Court has cancelled all oral arguments for the month of April.  In addition, many deadlines for submissions have been extended.  More details can be found here.
  1. The Probate and Family Court (PFC).  The Probate and Family Courts are currently closed to the public and operating with limited staff in the buildings.  The Court issued Standing Order 2-20.  Only true emergency matters are being heard, and if they are heard, most are being conducted via telephone.  There are few in person appearances and only those that meet the court clerk’s determination of what is considered an emergency.  Most counties have issued further directives, typically in the form of an emailed letter, to assist attorneys and litigants in those particular counties.  A list of those recent communications can be found here:
    Essex County
    Middlesex County
    Norfolk County
    Plymouth County
    Suffolk County
    Worcester County
  2. Miscellaneous from PFC
    a. Education Course. The PFC has also issued some new directives relating to the mandatory Parent Education classes, which means that if you are required to take a class, you may be able to attend “virtually” or participate in a web conference or watch a DVD.  Details can be found here.
    b. Guardian ad Litem Appointments. The PFC has also suspended all GAL Investigations that were in process before March 16th until May 1st.  Details can be found here.
    c. Co-Parenting.  The Chief Justice of the PFC has also released a letter regarding co-parenting and custodial arrangements.  Please note all orders regarding parenting time have not been stayed during this time and parenting time should proceed as scheduled. Details can be found here.

The courts are trying their best to keep up with how we, as a society, are dealing with this invisible threat.  As time passes and we have a more clear picture of how social distancing is impacting the rate of infection, it is expected that the courts will adjust accordingly and, if needed, will issue new orders which will further clarify and guide us.  Please be sure to check back here for updates to any of these new procedures or reach out to one of us at Burns & Levinson, and we would be happy to help.


Author: Francine Gardikas
Francine Gardikas is a partner in Burns and Levinson’s Divorce & Family practice group. She advocates for her clients in all forums, from the courtroom to alternative dispute resolution settings. Understanding her clients is a main focus of her approach. Learning who they are as individuals, explaining the law, and guiding her clients through an often emotionally fraught process helps her to stay aligned. Always keeping a client’s needs and goals in mind, Francine works diligently on their behalf to provide well thought-out counsel and personal attention. She can be reached at fgardikas@burnslev.com or 617.345.3261.

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