SALEM — Jury trials in Massachusetts may not resume until September — and that might depend on whether school resumes in the fall, trial court officials said in a letter released on Thursday.
That's among a number of issues, including exactly how the courts will be able to seat anywhere from seven to 16 people in jury boxes that were never designed for social distancing.
But in the letter, signed by Supreme Judicial Court Justice Ralph Gants, Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey and Appeals Court Chief Justice Mark Green, there is also an indication that some things may have permanently changed — including conducting more, if not most, proceedings via telephone and videoconference.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, the courts initially conducted hearings only on emergency matters, including hundreds of hearings on requests for release from custody, as well as arraignment and bail hearings and domestic restraining order requests.
But since the start of May, the courts have also been holding hearings on non-emergency matters.
"Therefore, even when this pandemic is behind us, we do not believe we will or should go back to doing things as we did in February," the justices wrote. "We are, more quickly than many thought we could and with some stumbles along the way, creating a more modern and efficient court system that will survive after the pandemic has passed."
"To be sure, we recognize that there are many judicial matters that still must be conducted in person, and others that judges may determine are better conducted in person, so we do not envision a day in the foreseeable future when all disputes will be resolved without coming to a courthouse," the justices said.
The justices said they expect the courthouses to remain physically closed through June.
"We emphasize the word "tentative" because our plans remain a work in progress, and may vary depending on the data regarding the number of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Massachusetts, and on the governor's orders regarding the state of emergency," the justices wrote.
The letter also referred to the need to address delays in court proceedings that could infringe on a person's rights and on court deadlines in pending cases.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.