Well, it has been two months since I provided an update concerning the Coronavirus impact on court closures and other important legal matters and unfortunately, not much has changed with respect to the court matters. The courts were set to re-open June 1st and that date has been extended to July, and probably will be further extended. Jury trials have now been extended to September 2020 and it is expected that there will be further delays with holding jury trials. The process of conducting a jury trial has presented as challenging with respect to maintaining social distancing during the trials. Attorneys receive weekly and/or daily updates from the courts and legal associations. While there appears to be some progress made with respect to having certain hearings conducted by virtual (ie: ZOOM) conferences or by telephone conferences, it also appears that the court administration must make more strives in upgrading technology to facilitate these conferences.
While I handle a diverse amount of cases, (civil litigation, probate filings, divorce, criminal, landlord/tenant etc.) whether or not I have had virtual or telephone conferences in the past several months and moving forward, depends on the particular court, the particular judges, the particular types of cases. With the implementation of Mass e-filing (electronic filing) pre-pandemic, this electronic filing has provided an avenue for filing new cases and documents into existing cases electronically. This e-filing system is in the process of being mandated in all courts but the process is still being fine-tuned, in this attorney’s opinion.
Since the eviction moratorium went into effect both federally and statewide, evictions and other landlord/tenant matters have pretty much been “on hold” with few exceptions. The state moratorium is scheduled to be lifted in mid-August 2020 unless the Governor further extends so, unfortunately, for landlords, they cannot obtain much relief until that moratorium is lifted. Landlords should consider working with their tenants in agreeing to payment plans on rent owed and other measures. Tenants are NOT relieved from the rent monies they owe landlords but obviously, if Tenants owe months of rent, that debt can be a large sum and Tenants will be obligated to pay the rent arrears as well as current rent. If they do not do so, once the moratorium is lifted, they will find themselves in Housing Court or District Court on non-payment of rent evictions and will risk losing their current housing. Tenants should also work with their Landlords if they wish to keep their current apartments.
It would appear that real estate transactions and closings have adapted to the “New Normal”. For the past few months, I have conducted real estate closings in person while everyone wears masks and gloves and sits 6 feet away from each other. We have also facilitated will signings using these same measures. This process is totally “doable” and sometimes the in person experience (even while masked) is preferable. Massachusetts has provided for e-notarizations but wills still need to be witnessed by two disinterested witnesses in addition to notarization. It is easier to facilitate this process under one roof by simply maintaining the required distances and again, wearing masks, as mandated. Also, there is a certain familiarity that is made when attorneys meet with new or existing clients in person even if we can no longer shake hands and can only have “elbow bump” greetings.
More people find themselves having to file bankruptcy because of job losses, overwhelming debt and other negative financial circumstances. The federal U.S. Bankruptcy Court has been at the forefront of electronic filing since the Bankruptcy Code underwent an enormous revamping in 2005. The process of filing a bankruptcy petition is usually immediate. A petition can be electronically filed 24 hours a day and minutes before a mortgage foreclosure auction to stop a foreclosure (literally before the auctioneer’s hammer falls). Filing petitions can also stop wage garnishments and motor vehicle repossessions which can still move forward amid this Coronavirus pandemic. For now, hearings following a bankruptcy filing are being conducted virtually but as the U.S. Bankruptcy courts seem to prefer in person meetings, this attorney hopes the U.S. Bankruptcy Court will be more proactive in accommodating in person meetings in the future. Again, while there is a benefit to being able to conduct virtual meetings/conferences, some things can be lost in not having the in person experience. Potential bankruptcy clients should choose an experienced attorney for his/her bankruptcy filings as there are many technicalities and you should have an attorney that does not “dabble” in such matters. If every “i ” is not dotted and every T is not crossed, a bankruptcy filing could result in a client not receiving his/her discharge for many reasons. Additionally, during this Covid-19 pandemic, there is being reported that “fake bankruptcy firms” are being established so it is very important to retain a reputable and experienced attorney. Attorney Deborah L. Gold-Alexander has been filing bankruptcy petitions since approximately 1991.
The overview at this time is that the various courts are in a state of flux amid this pandemic. It has been difficult in some courts to process simple filings while other courts have risen to the occasion by implementing virtual conferences with the ability to email documents in real time to clerks and judges during such conferences. People have been able to get divorced with agreements but the challenge will be facilitating divorces where the parties are not agreed. While the courts have been primarily engaged with emergency matters, the majority of non-emergency matters are supposed to be handled shortly and it is our hope that we will be able to facilitate the processing of more of our cases. For any such court matters, you should contact my office as I have extensive experience in these matters and have been effectively able to navigate these challenging court processes for many years and moving forward.