By Judge Keith C. Long Voice of the Judiciary
Near the top of the application for judgeships is an innocent-sounding question: “If appointed, will you accept assignments from time to time in other departments and other geographic divisions as the administrative needs of the Massachusetts Trial Court require?” With visions of Nantucket or the Berkshires in the summer, I cheerfully answered “yes.” Only later did I learn this was a reference to the Judicial Response System (“JRS”), unknown to me at the time and, I suspect, to most lawyers in the Commonwealth.
Courts never close. There is always a judge available if needed. From 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. weekdays, and all hours of the day and night on weekends and holidays, a judge is “on call.” Every trial court judge participates, without exception, serving for a week at a time every eight months or so (judges covering the Berkshires serve for a month), on a rotating basis, in one of the eight districts into which the state has been divided.
What kinds of matters does JRS address? JRS is not a continuation of ordinary court business. It is intended only for true emergencies needing immediate relief. These most often are abuse or harassment prevention orders (c. 209A and c. 258E), search warrants, and probable cause review of warrantless arrests, but also include orders for emergency medical care and treatment when judicial intervention is the only available recourse, psychiatric hospitalization of persons detained by the police, and civil commitment of mentally ill persons at substantial risk of physical harm to themselves or others. There are also other types of emergencies. For couples on their wedding day with their minister, guests, caterers, and band all waiting for the ceremony to begin, but who forgot to obtain the required three-day notice of intent to marry, JRS judges have the authority to waive that requirement, thus allowing the marriage to go forward. Sometimes the JRS judge must involve others, even in the middle of the night. In juvenile matters, often the Department of Children & Families must be contacted for assistance. With civil commitments and medical interventions, counsel for those affected must be obtained. Read the rest at the Boston Bar Journal.