Amid soaring coronavirus rates, the Massachusetts court system will make changes to the cases it hears and the number of jurors it calls in January.
Two district courts closed this week after staff tested positive for the coronavirus. To reduce pressure on the justice system and reduce the risk of viral transmission in its buildings, spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue said the system would prioritize cases involving an accused in custody and limit the number of jurors invited to sit on juries. .
“All courts are increasing COVID-19 mitigation protocols, including additional health assessments of court users, increased social distancing and continued use of masks by all court users,” he said. she stated in a statement sent by email. The judicial system also includes the Supreme Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal.
Donahue said the court system does not require proof of vaccination, but asks people to check the website of each court they plan to visit and follow the procedures outlined. All visitors to the trial court are usually asked to do a home self-test to see if they have symptoms of coronavirus. While the courts do not list the different COVID-19 rules, some have certain procedures available virtually and describe what they are.
For example, in family and inheritance court, uncontested adoptions and divorces can be heard virtually, as well as most actions involving child support, unless someone is convicted of contempt of his agreement.
Attleboro District Court temporarily closed on Wednesday after several court staff from different departments tested positive for the coronavirus, some of whom were in court as late as Tuesday of this week. District court cases will be handled by the Taunton District Court until the end of the week.
Pittsfield District Court is also closed due to the positive test from court staff and will continue to operate remotely until January 3.
The State Committee for Public Counsel Services has contacted the trial court over the past two weeks and will be requesting changes soon in response to the omicron variant and the increase in cases, according to Robert McGovern, group communications director.
“We will suggest steps we think the court could take to better protect clients and lawyers and the public who come to court every day,” he said.
The bright side of some is that the judgment system’s decision to prioritize cases where people are already incarcerated could speed up their potential freedom. Elizabeth Matos, director of prisoner legal services, said prisoners should be sent home to wait until their day in court, but if that doesn’t have to happen, it’s a good step for prisoners to stay home. shelter from COVID-19.
“We don’t want people to stay in jail for prolonged periods without trial, when those in pre-trial detention are supposed to have a speedy trial,” she said. Staying in jail increases their risk of exposure, she added.
Matos said there were concerns about mounting COVID-19 cases in county jails, including Bristol, Hampshire and Essex counties. Vaccination rates among correctional officers and prisoners are lower than those in state prisons, she said. County guards do not fall under Governor Charlie Baker’s mandate to vaccinate state prison employees.