SJC Orders a Trial Period for…Jury Trials

Sullivan & Worcester

On September 17, 2020, Massachusetts took a definitive step towards reintroducing in-person jury trials in its state court system. Although modest in scope, the transition represents forward momentum in a gradual plan to fully reopen the courts and begin working through the ever-growing backlog of pandemic delayed cases.

Following a detailed report and recommendation from the Jury Management Advisory Committee (JMAC), the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) issued Order O.E. 144 (effective September 17, 2020) providing that in-person jury trials may resume on a limited basis as early as October 23, 2020. While the courts are still looking to operate through virtual proceedings wherever possible, after more than six months without jury trials, the SJC determined that JMAC’s reopening "Phase 1" can now begin without endangering public health and safety. Under Phase 1, a small number of locations may maintain one active six-member jury trial at a time. In an effort to reduce the number of potential jurors in the pool, counsel for both parties will have a reduced number of peremptory challenges and jurors will be freely excused if they or a family member have identified COVID-19 vulnerabilities.

Specifics for each courthouse are subject to approval by the Chief Justices of both the Trial Court and that particular Department. Once a case is approved for an in-person jury, scheduling will require a highly collaborative process involving court staff, bar leaders, public health experts, and trial counsel.

The SJC will issue direction regarding Phase 2 only after receiving and reviewing JMAC’s evaluation of Phase 1. Phase 2 is currently expected to begin no earlier than February 2021.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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