MA ACCESS TO JUSTICE COMMISSION UPDATE
May 15, 2020
Letter from Judiciary Leaders on Path Forward During the Pandemic
On May 14, 2020, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Appeals Court Chief Justice Mark Green, and Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey sent a letter to the members of the Bar to update them, self-represented litigants, and the public with a tentative plan for the months ahead. The letter includes new, important information, such as:
- The Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, and every Trial Court department are currently hearing and deciding cases virtually. The Trial Court departments have begun to hear nonemergency matters, and the Chief Justices anticipate the number and range of these matters will increase over the summer.
- They are considering whether to end the tolling of certain court deadlines sometime in June, so that most matters may move forward in courts that are increasingly able virtually to act on those cases.
- The Chief Justices expect courthouses to physically reopen sometime this summer, but only in stages and only for certain matters that require in-person appearances.
- The Chief Justices believe that the courts will continue to handle judicial matters remotely after the pandemic has passed. This would enable attorneys to reduce the time (and therefore the cost) devoted to litigation, spare self-represented litigants from the need to miss work or find child or elder care, and allow civil disputes to be resolved equally thoughtfully but more efficiently.
- The Chief Justices hope that in September, if the schools open, they will begin to conduct jury trials. The challenges to conducting a jury trial are formidable, and they working to address that challenge.
The full letter can be read here.
Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission COVID-19 Task Force
The Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission COVID-19 Task Force continues to meet weekly with the goal of effectively collaborating and marshalling resources to assist people with their legal needs statewide. This week, we invited members of the Access to Justice Commission to join us, in lieu of our scheduled Commission meeting. At the meeting, we were so fortunate to have both Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey and Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants provide their insights into the court system and our ongoing collaborations. In addition, we also heard updates from the three Task Force Committees and the work of the Boston Bar Association and Massachusetts Bar Association. As far as Task Force Committees, the Pro Bono Committee is working with nonprofit and legal service organizations to develop pro bono legal projects in response to needs from the pandemic. The projects will be posted on MassProBono.org within the coming weeks. The Communication/Materials Committee continues to identify materials that contain clear, accurate information about changes in the law and legal procedures and to host webinars for social service advocates on relevant topics (housing, immigration, family law, etc.). The Access to Courts Committee remains engaged in dialogue with the courts on issues in the areas of housing law, family law, and consumer debt that have arisen as a result of the pandemic. Suffolk Law School has also continued to progress in adapting emergency court forms onto a mobile-friendly, fillable format. In addition, the committee has worked closely with the Boston Bar Association and Massachusetts Bar Association on their collective efforts to create best practices resources for remote hearings for the use of attorneys and self-represented litigants.