Lawyers Journal

News from the Courts

Probate and Family Court announces special procedures for cases involving children in Hampshire Division

The Probate and Family Court Department announces the implementation of Standing Order 1-10 regarding a pilot program in the Hampshire Division involving children. The order will require attorneys, parents and caregivers in divorce, separate support, paternity, support/custody/visitation, modification, contempt, guardianship and termination of parental rights cases in the Hampshire Division to participate in a child-focused resolution process.

The full text of Standing Order 1-10 is available online at www.mass.gov/courts/courtsandjudges/courts/probateandfamilycourt. The standing order is effective May 5.

Boston Municipal Court to offer limited assistance representation

Chief Justice for Administration & Management Robert A. Mulligan has approved a Standing Order requested by the Boston Municipal Court to introduce limited assistance representation (LAR) for civil matters. Notice of the standing order will become effective May 3.

"Expansion of limited assistance representation into a new court department represents significant progress and it reflects the value of launching a focused Trial Court initiative on access to justice," said Mulligan. "I commend the Boston Municipal Court and I expect that the momentum will continue to grow through ongoing collaboration and coordination between the Access to Justice Commission and the Trial Court Access to Justice Initiative."

Boston Municipal Court Chief Justice Charles Johnson said, "The Boston Municipal Court Department is pleased to positively respond to the increasing number of self-represented litigants appearing in our various courts. LAR enhances access to justice by providing litigants with the opportunity for selected representation without the burden of excessive expense and by releasing lawyers from obligatory lawyer-client relationships when clients no longer desire or can afford their services."

In May 2009, based on the success of the LAR pilot project in the Probate and Family Court Department, the Supreme Judicial Court issued an order approving the use of LAR in other court departments. The Probate and Family Court Department subsequently introduced LAR across the state.

Limited assistance representation is one of the four priority projects identified in the Interim Report on Access to Justice Initiatives in the Trial Court issued in January. LAR permits an attorney, either for payment or pro bono, to assist a litigant on a limited basis without undertaking full representation of the client on all issues and events related to the client's case. Protocols and procedures for the use of LAR are established by each court department.

Probate and Family Court adopts Scheduling Practices and Procedures

The Probate and Family Court Scheduling Practices and Procedures, which were approved by Chief Justice Paula M. Carey, became effective in all divisions of the Probate and Family Court on April 15, the court's Administrative Office announced.

These practices and procedures were developed by Carey based on a report from the Probate and Family Court Scheduling Task Force. In response to concerns expressed by the legal community about certain aspects of case scheduling and, more particularly, about the lack of uniformity in the manner in which cases, motions, etc., are scheduled in the various divisions within the Probate and Family Court Department, Carey created a task force to review such matters and to provide her with recommendations for suggested changes.

The task force convened a total of five regional meetings across the state to meet with members of the bar and others to listen to their concerns and hear their ideas as to how scheduling matters in the Probate and Family Court might be improved. The practices and procedures, which shall supersede any local rules, practices or promulgated procedures where there is a conflict, include the following:

  • Re-statement of the Standing Order 1-06 requirement to review domestic relations and equity cases for service of process;
  • Re-statement of the Standing Order 1-06 requirement of mandatory next event scheduling;
  • Choosing of motion dates by the parties, not the court, unless general session limits are requested by the first justice and approved by the chief justice. An individual session limitation may also be approved by the first justice;
  • Scheduling pre-trial conferences at staggered times;
  • Procedure for continuances, including emphasis on a limit of one administrative allowance of a joint request to continue, unless good cause is shown;
  • Scheduling hearings on agreements or uncontested matters where final judgment is sought within 30 days of filing; and
  • Encouragement of the use of teleconferences.


Modifications to Probate and Family Court Scheduling Practices and Procedures were made for the Barnstable, Bristol and Middlesex divisions of the Probate and Family Court effective April 15.

At the request of certain first justices, Carey has determined that the following divisions of the Probate and Family Court will be permitted to modify their motion practice:

  • Bristol Division (New Bedford) - Scheduled motions in New Bedford shall be limited to 55 per motion session. Attorneys and parties shall be permitted to mail in or hand deliver their motion and chose their own dates, on a motion day of the assigned case judge, rather than the court choosing a motion date. If the date fills, the parties or counsel will be notified and they will be required to choose another date for their hearing. This exemption was granted to ensure that no fire code is violated in New Bedford.
  • Barnstable Division - Motions may be scheduled on Monday, Thursday and Friday mornings beginning May 3. Motions may be scheduled on Wednesdays only if the parties have a scheduled pre-trial conference that day. There will be no limit to the number of motions scheduled on a particular day, except in the event of vacation or other anomaly circumstance. Attorneys and parties may send their motions in to the court, with proper notice, without having to call the court in advance.
  • Middlesex Division - Scheduled motions shall be limited to 55 per motion session. Attorneys and parties shall be permitted to mail in or hand deliver their motion and chose their own dates, on a motion day of the assigned case judge, rather than the court choosing a motion date. If the date fills, the parties or counsel will be notified and they will be required to choose another date for their hearing. This exemption was granted in light of the significant shortage of probation officers in Middlesex County, the fact that four days a week two motion sessions are running, and at times three court locations operate on one day.


Mass. Trial Court issues policy on juror use of personal communication devices

Chief Justice for Administration & Management Robert A. Mulligan issued a policy on March 25 regarding the use of cell phones and other personal communication devices by jurors in courthouses and courtrooms. The new policy is intended to complement the existing security policy on clothing, cameras and cell phones introduced Jan. 9, 2006.

Judges shall instruct jurors selected to serve on a jury that, until their jury service is concluded, that they shall not:

  • discuss the case with others, including other jurors, except as otherwise authorized by the court;
  • read or listen to any news reports about the case;
  • use a computer, cellular phone or other electronic device with communication capabilities, including access to the Internet, while in attendance at trial or during jury deliberations. These devices may be used during lunch breaks, but may not be used to obtain or disclose information about, or relevant to, the case;
  • use a computer, cellular phone or other electronic device with communication capabilities, including access to the Internet, or any other methods to obtain or disclose information about, or relevant to, the case when they are not in court.

Departmental chief justices may impose a more restrictive policy, including the collection of cell phones and other communication devices while the jury is deliberating. However, for a variety of reasons, cell phones and other communication devices shall not be collected and stored by associate court officers working at the front door screening station.

The judge who greets the jurors in the pool each morning pursuant to G.L. c. 234A, sec. 65, shall inform them about this policy.

Departmental chief justices shall work to develop and promulgate whatever procedures are necessary to ensure compliance in their department.

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