Based on what we are seeing, not much is happening in the courts these days. Every court hearing our firm had scheduled has been rescheduled, and we have not yet had a single hearing by phone or videoconference. It also appears that any new motions filed will not be able to be scheduled for a hearing until at least May 1st, and those will be in line behind the growing backlog of postponed hearings beginning last week. All in all, it is going to take a long time for the courts to recover.
On March 16, 2020, the Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court entered Standing Order 2-20, which made some specific changes to the prior Standing Order 1-20:
All restraining order requests and requests to vacate and their return dates, including return dates of which notice has not been given, shall be heard via telephone or videoconference.
All emergency protection orders pursuant to G.L. c. 209A, G.L. c. 208, § 34B issued prior to Standing Order 2-20 and set to expire on or after March 16, 2020 shall remain in effect until after the matter has been rescheduled and heard before the Probate and Family Court.
Emergency protection orders issued at a hearing after notice was given and during the pendency of the current Standing Order which was not been heard in person may be issued only until a date which the court can schedule an in-person hearing.
Trials that have not yet begun will be scheduled for dates beyond May 1, 2020 unless parties involved agree on the trial being conducted in a manner that is not in-person. If trial has already begun, however, the assigned judge will determine if and how the trial will proceed at this time. If a trial that is pending is to proceed, it shall be because it is an emergency matter, in which case, its attendance shall be limited to necessary persons only, plus no more than ten (10) members of the general public or news media. These individuals will be admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis.
A party whose trial or evidentiary hearing has been postponed as a result of the Standing Order may seek an exception by a motion demonstrating exigent circumstances. Said motion shall be heard on the pleadings or telephonically.
Parties in a case whose trial or evidentiary hearing has been postponed may seek a conference with the court to address issues that have arisen as a result of the postponement. Said conference will be heard either via telephone or videoconference.
The following cases/events have been deemed emergencies, which 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 1, 2020;
- All requests for injunctive relief;
- Motions for temporary orders where exceptional/exigent circumstances have been demonstrated; and
- Contempt actions.
All emergency situations not mentioned above shall be considered on a case-by-case basis.
We continue to monitor the Court's responses and orders concerning COVID-19 and will keep you updated as we are informed.