Case: Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court

20-12926 | Massachusetts state trial court

Filed Date: March 24, 2020

Case Ongoing

Clearinghouse coding complete

Case Summary

COVID-19 Summary: This is an emergency petition to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court seeking, among other responses, releases of many prisoners. On April 3, the court held that certain detainees were entitled a rebuttable presumption of release and to an expedited hearing within two business days on their motions for reconsideration of bail and required weekly reporting. The plaintiffs sought reconsideration, asking the court for further measures, but the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed …

COVID-19 Summary: This is an emergency petition to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court seeking, among other responses, releases of many prisoners. On April 3, the court held that certain detainees were entitled a rebuttable presumption of release and to an expedited hearing within two business days on their motions for reconsideration of bail and required weekly reporting. The plaintiffs sought reconsideration, asking the court for further measures, but the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed their prior decision. The defendants now file weekly status reports with the court.


On March 24, 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, filed this emergency petition asking the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to take immediate action to limit the outbreak of COVID-19 in Massachusetts correctional facilities. Specifically, the petitioners asked that the Court exercise its superintendence powers under state law to: 1) reduce the volume of those entering Massachusetts correctional facilities by requiring trial courts to weigh the threat of COVID-19 when analyzing the need for pretrial detention; 2) order release of those held pretrial who do not pose a public safety risk; and 3) deem served the sentences of those who are vulnerable to COVID-19, near the end of their sentence, eligible for parole, or who do not pose a threat to the public. The petitioners named the Chief Justice of the Trial Court as respondent.

The petitioners argued that the exercise of the Court’s supervisory powers was “necessary to protect substantive rights.” They claimed that subjecting non-dangerous prisoners to a likely outbreak of COVID-19 violated the Eighth Amendment and Massachusetts prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, they claimed that continuing detention during the COVID-19 pandemic did not comport with substantive and procedural due process as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and the analogous state provision.

Just prior to the filing of the petition, three incarcerated individuals and one officer received positive COVID-19 diagnoses in Massachusetts. In response to this pandemic, the Supreme Judicial Court had already closed courthouses, canceled trials, and ordered hearings by videoconference.

On March 25, the Court ordered that the petitioners add the following parties as respondents: the Department of Correction; each county Sheriff; each District Attorney; the Parole Board; and the Attorney General.

On March 25, the Middlesex District Attorney filed a response to the petitioner’s request for relief. The party expressed concern for unconditional release and advocated for the court to immediately convene an emergency committee involving various stakeholders. On March 27, the Berkshire District Attorney also filed a response brief, opposing a potential decarceration order from the Supreme Judicial Court but supporting the appointment of the Special Master.

On the same day, the Bristol District Attorney responded and requested that the court dismiss petitioners claim. Similarly, sheriffs of 14 counties requested that the court deny the petition, arguing that continuing detention did not violate the Eighth Amendment or analogous state provisions, the petitioners failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and the remedy would pose potential harm to public safety. In contrast, the Suffolk District Attorney’s March 27 response brief expressed support for the relief sought by the petitioners. On March 28, the Attorney General filed a brief requesting that the court adheres to certain principles in fashioning relief.

On March 25, the Court had appointed a Special Master to explore a possible negotiated settlement and make recommendations to the court. The Special Master submitted a Report and Recommendations to the court on March 30. For pretrial proceedings, it recommended factoring age and health in detention decisions and suspending existing warrants for non-violent probation violations, failures to appear, and alleged commission of new offenses excluding certain felonies and violent offenses. It included a review process for considering the release of certain prisoners and a reporting provision for prisons and jails. The Attorney General, and the District Attorneys of Berkshire County, the Northwest Counties, Middlesex County and Suffolk County supported the Report. The petitioners supported the framework, the timelines, and the individualized review recommendations, but objected to the definition of certain excluded offenses. The petitioners also filed a reply brief on March 30, advocating for immediate of an order that allows for rapid and individualized incarceration reduction.

Prisoners’ Legal Services moved to intervene on March 30. As Massachusetts’s sole provider of civil legal services to those in prison, the organization argued that its expertise and knowledge were necessary to develop a solution that incorporates its clients’ voices. PLS sought additional relief including: (1) release of all individuals civilly committed to a correctional facility under state law provisions, whether held at the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center operated by the Department of Correction or the Hampden County Jail and House of Correction; (2) consideration for release of all persons civilly committed to the Massachusetts Treatment Center who have not been adjudicated a sexually dangerous person, as well as all persons committed to Bridgewater State Hospital for evaluation of competency or criminal responsibility; (3) a policy that no person should be categorically excluded from relief due to the underlying criminal offense, without consideration of actual dangerousness; (4) consideration for release of all individuals over 50; and (5) an order that the Parole Board (a) explicitly consider COVID-19 when it evaluates whether release is “incompatible with the welfare of society” pursuant to state law, and (b) shall presumptively grant parole to all parole eligible individuals unless it makes a determination based on clear and convincing evidence that the person cannot live at liberty without violating the law.

On Tuesday, March 31, the court heard oral argument on the emergency petition. The parties included MACDL, Committee for Public Counsel Services, the Attorney General, District Attorneys, and sheriffs of 14 counties. Subsequently, on April 1, the court ordered the Department of Corrections and the Sheriffs to submit post-argument letters answering questions about percentages of prisoners who share eating, sleeping, and recreation spaces within six feet.

On April 3, Judge Gaziano entered an order, holding that certain detainees were entitled a rebuttable presumption of release and to an expedited hearing within two business days on their motions for reconsideration of bail. The court required defendants to submit daily reports to the special master on population, releases, COVID-19 testing and results, which in turn would be reported weekly to the court.

On April 17, the plaintiffs submitted a motion for reconsideration, requesting further response from the court because--since the order was issued--five inmates had died from COVID-19, 180 inmates were infected, and at least 138 correctional staff were infected. According to the plaintiffs, the overall population reduction was only 168 people, or 2.17%, which was not enough to mitigate COVID-19. They also alleged that the DOC did not submit daily reports, including facility-specific information, as required by the order. They asked the court to order the defendants to provide all missing data and to provide daily reports, including facility-specific information on weekdays, weekends, and holidays moving forward.

On April 22, the plaintiffs submitted a complaint for civil contempt, but dismissed the complaint the following day. According to the weekly report dated April 27, 824 inmates had been released.

On April 28, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed their prior decision regarding their constitutional authority to stay final sentences absent an ongoing challenge to the underlying convictions or a violation of constitutional rights. However, the court agreed with the requested relief given by the lower court for additional reporting, and amended the reporting requirements to include additional information to aid individuals to pursue release, such as the identity of those who were serving sentences in houses of correction who had not reached their parole eligibility dates, but were eligible for early consideration. 484 Mass. 1029.

The special master has continued to file weekly reports and, according to the October 15, 2021 report, 7,301 inmates had been released. The case remains ongoing.

Summary Authors

Lily Sawyer-Kaplan (3/24/2020)

Averyn Lee (6/14/2020)

People


Judge(s)

Budd, Kimberley S. (Massachusetts)

Cypher, Elspeth B (Massachusetts)

Gants, Ralph D (Massachusetts)

Gaziano, Frank M (Massachusetts)

Kafker, Scott L (Massachusetts)

Lowy, David A (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Finnegan, Theresa M. S. (Massachusetts)

Jacobstein, Rebecca A. (Massachusetts)

Keehn, Benjamin H (Massachusetts)

Kelleher, Victoria (Massachusetts)

Judge(s)

Budd, Kimberley S. (Massachusetts)

Cypher, Elspeth B (Massachusetts)

Gants, Ralph D (Massachusetts)

Gaziano, Frank M (Massachusetts)

Kafker, Scott L (Massachusetts)

Lowy, David A (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Plaintiff

Finnegan, Theresa M. S. (Massachusetts)

Jacobstein, Rebecca A. (Massachusetts)

Keehn, Benjamin H (Massachusetts)

Kelleher, Victoria (Massachusetts)

Kiley, Rebecca (Massachusetts)

McCready, Laura K. (Massachusetts)

Mulvey, Kristin (Massachusetts)

Rossman, Jessie J. (Massachusetts)

Segal, Matthew (Massachusetts)

Wood, Chauncey B. (Massachusetts)

Attorneys(s) for Defendant

Abdella, Andrew J (Massachusetts)

Alford, Pamela (Massachusetts)

Anderson, Charles W Jr. (Massachusetts)

Bendetti, Shara (Massachusetts)

Buckley, Donna Desimone (Massachusetts)

Burbine, Carolyn A (Massachusetts)

Campbell, Cailin M (Massachusetts)

Casey, Timothy James (Massachusetts)

Cefalo, Amoroso (Massachusetts)

Dietrick, Stephen G. (Massachusetts)

Forbes, Allen H. (Massachusetts)

Glazer, Daryl F (Massachusetts)

Haskell, Eric A. (Massachusetts)

Healey, Maura T. (Massachusetts)

Jeffery, Richard K (Massachusetts)

Klenoff, Mindy S. (Massachusetts)

Kravitz, David C. (Massachusetts)

Kwon, Gina K (Massachusetts)

Lee, Patrick C (Massachusetts)

Maguire, Charles M (Massachusetts)

McMahon, Katherine E (Massachusetts)

Moroney, Gloriann (Massachusetts)

Novack, Robert M (Massachusetts)

O'Sullivan, David F. (Massachusetts)

Patalano, Donna J (Massachusetts)

Ralph, Thomas D. (Massachusetts)

Ravitz, Randall E (Massachusetts)

Rollins, Rachael Splaine (Massachusetts)

Rose, Megan Lynn (Massachusetts)

Savignano, Richard D (Massachusetts)

Semel, Catherine L (Massachusetts)

Sheridan, Daniel J (Massachusetts)

Stern, Shoshana (Massachusetts)

Sultan, Bradley (Massachusetts)

Sweeney, Elizabeth Anne (Massachusetts)

Taylor, Abigail B. (Massachusetts)

Toone, Robert E (Massachusetts)

Townsend, Thomas H. (Massachusetts)

Zanini, John P. (Massachusetts)

Other Attorney(s)

Bair, Dan V. II (Massachusetts)

Bauer, Max (Massachusetts)

Blodgett, Jonathan (Massachusetts)

Cox, Michael (Massachusetts)

Cruz, Timothy J. (Massachusetts)

Early, Joseph D. (Massachusetts)

Greenberg, Ruth (Massachusetts)

Gulluni, Anthony D. (Massachusetts)

Harnais, Robert (Massachusetts)

Harrington, Andrea (Massachusetts)

Healey [inactive], Maura (Massachusetts)

Holbrook, Coco (Massachusetts)

Honig, Jennifer (Massachusetts)

Kassel, Phillip J (Massachusetts)

Kassel [inactive], Phillip (Massachusetts)

LaClair, Jessica (Massachusetts)

Lowney, Liam T. (Massachusetts)

Matos, Elizabeth D. (Massachusetts)

Morrissey, Michael W. (Massachusetts)

Murphy, Martin F. (Massachusetts)

Naples-Mitchell, Katharine (Massachusetts)

Netski, Christine M. (Massachusetts)

O'Keefe, Michael D. (Massachusetts)

Parton, Caitlin (Massachusetts)

Pingeon, James R. (Massachusetts)

Quinn, Thomas (Massachusetts)

Raring, Nicholas J. (Massachusetts)

Ryan, Marian T. (Massachusetts)

Shih, Meredith (Massachusetts)

Siegel, David M. (Massachusetts)

Smith, Leon (Massachusetts)

Sullivan, David E. (Massachusetts)

Tenneriello, Bonita (Massachusetts)

White, Jesse (Massachusetts)

Expert/Monitor/Master

Bader, Debra Beard (Massachusetts)

Choi, Elisa (Massachusetts)

O'Connor, Brien T. (Massachusetts)

Rangaviz, David (Massachusetts)

Wurcel, Alysse (Massachusetts)

Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

Docket

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of The Trial Court

Massachusetts state supreme court

June 15, 2020 Docket

Re: CPCS et al v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court & others, SJC-12926; Amicus Letter in Support of Petitioners

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 3, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Re: Committee for Public Counsel Services and Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, No. SJ-2020-

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 24, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Interim Order

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 24, 2020 Order/Opinion

Emergency Petition for Relief

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 24, 2020 Complaint

Order

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 25, 2020 Order/Opinion

Commonwealth's Response to Emergency Petition for Relief Pursuant to G.L. c. 211, § 3

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 25, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Reservation and Report

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 25, 2020 Order/Opinion

Re: Committee for Public Counsel Services and Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, No. SJC-12926

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 26, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

RE: CPCS, et al v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court SJC-12926

Massachusetts state supreme court

March 26, 2020 Pleading / Motion / Brief

Resources

Title Description External URL

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court

ACLU

In March 2020, the ACLU of Massachusetts, together with the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (MACDL) filed an emergency petit… March 24, 2020 https://www.aclum.org/en/cases/committee-public-counsel-services-v-chief-justice-trial-court

Supreme Judicial Court full bench recently entered cases and orders, Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, SJC-12926

Mass. Supreme Judicial Court

March 31, 2020 https://www.mass.gov/lists/supreme-judicial-court-full-bench-recently-entered-cases-and-orders

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court (Oral Argument)

Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, Kafker, JJ

Superintendence Petition; COVID-19-- This emergency petition requests release of certain incarcerated persons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. March 31, 2020 https://boston.suffolk.edu/sjc/pop.php?csnum=SJC_12926

Committee for Public Counsel Services v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court, SJC-12926

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

The SJC Clerk for the Commonwealth posts recently entered cases and orders. June 15, 2020 https://www.mass.gov/service-details/committee-for-public-counsel-services-v-chief-justice-of-the-trial-court-sjc-12926

Docket

Last updated May 11, 2022, 8 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

State / Territory: Massachusetts

Case Type(s):

Criminal Justice (Other)

Special Collection(s):

COVID-19 (novel coronavirus)

Key Dates

Filing Date: March 24, 2020

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

The Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is an association representing more than 1,000 trial and appellate lawyers who are members of the Massachusetts Bar and who devote a substantial part of their practices to criminal defense. The Committee for Public Counsel Services was created by state law to plan, oversee, and coordinate the delivery of indigent criminal legal services.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Non-profit NON-religious organization

Attorney Organizations:

Prisoners' Legal Services of Massachusetts

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

Chief Justice of the Trial Court, State

Defendant Type(s):

Corrections

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Constitutional Clause(s):

Cruel and Unusual Punishment

Due Process

Due Process: Substantive Due Process

Availably Documents:

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Any published opinion

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Order Duration: 2020 - None

Issues

General:

Conditions of confinement

Sanitation / living conditions

Totality of conditions

Crowding:

Crowding / caseload

COVID-19:

Mitigation Denied

Mitigation Granted

Mitigation Requested

Population-Medically vulnerable

Population reduction/cap

Release Denied

Release Granted

Release-process created/modified

Release Requested

Transfer-ordered or process created/modified

Type of Facility:

Government-run