On March 15, 2010, the Chief Justice of the Probate & Family Court released uniform Probate and Family Court Scheduling Practices and Procedures.
These procedures include certain requirements intended to promote predictability and uniformity of practice for the scheduling of all types of hearings in the Probate and Family Courts throughout the Commonwealth. The practices include mandatory scheduling of a next event and other requirements intended to keep cases moving forward.
One of the changes is to the Motion scheduling practice. Although some courts, such as Plymouth Probate & Family Court, previously allowed for scheduling of Motions at the discretion of the litigants (within the Notice rules), other courts, such as Norfolk, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties, only allowed for scheduling of Motions by the rules of their individual trial departments. According to the Chief Justice's new procedures:
"There shall be no restrictions on the number or timing of motions which
may be filed except as set forth above regardless of the nature of the underlying
The exception is that the First Justices shall have discretion, with the approval of the Chief Justice, to limit the marking of Motions. "Any limitation on motion sessions approved by the Chief Justice shall be posted in the division (Registry of Probate and courtrooms) and on the web site of the Probate and Family Court."
This should result in greater consistency throughout the counties, something probably more noticeable to attorneys than individual litigants. In the counties that used to limit the number of Motions, this will also result in getting into court more quickly (usually something desired by clients).
There is a downside though as well. At a recent Motion session in Suffolk which I attended with a client, there were 76 Motions scheduled. Luckily we were number three, but I would hate to be number 76. Although you might get into court a week or two before you otherwise would have, you should plan to be there all day.
Hopefully, as the courts get used to the new system these overloaded days will be less likely. Either way, I believe consistency of procedure among the counties is a good thing. Access to Justice should be the same no matter where you live.