Massachusetts State House.
Policy Library

BMC CORI Sealing Order Preserves Access to Justice

June 21, 2012

In May, Chief Justice Charles Johnson of the Boston Municipal Court (BMC) signed BMC Standing Order 1-09, as a permanent order.  The BBA received a grateful letter from Chief Justice Johnson once he had made the Order permanent.  The Order is an excellent example of how the courts are continuing to identify ways to make the public’s experience with the judicial system easier and more efficient.

Standing Order 1-09 permits the sealing of three or more dismissals and non-conviction criminal records from two or more court divisions of the BMC.  The proposal – and now the permanent Standing Order – would apply to dismissals without probationary terms, nolle prosequi or a not guilty finding.  In 2009, Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) proposed creating a procedure for interdepartmental determinations of motions to seal criminal records.  That year, GBLS brought this proposal to the attention of our Delivery of Legal Services Section and the BBA Council for the BBA’s support.  It was a no-brainer.  Since then the BBA has been working with Chief Justice Johnson’s office and urging the court to adopt the Order.  This started out as a one year pilot program and was extended twice before being made permanent in May.

So how does Standing Order 1-09 actually affect real people?  Here’s just one example…Imagine Jane Doe who lives in Roxbury has 6 charges that can be sealed in 4 divisions of the BMC – Dorchester, Roxbury, South Boston and Brighton.  She can file a single petition in the Roxbury division of the BMC to seal all her eligible BMC cases.  This means she can avoid paying a babysitter, save on bus and subway fares, and doesn’t have to lose hours at her minimum wage, part-time, graveyard shift job at a nursing home. Jane is stuck in this job that provides no vacation days because of her Criminal Offender Record Information and lives paycheck to paycheck.

Standing Order 1-09 allows multiple motions from different districts to be heard in one of the courts with jurisdiction over a case to be sealed.  This saves people like Jane Doe a great deal of time, energy and money, as well as giving people peace of mind.

Prior to Standing Order 1-09, the sealing process was cumbersome at best.  In addition to needing to travel to each district to have a record sealed, the former statute required two hearings before any individual motion to seal could be decided.  That meant that individuals would have to travel to each court twice to have the motion decided.

Thanks to GBLS for bringing this to our attention.  This was unnecessary and was not the best use of the court’s time and resources.  Many people seeking to seal their records are indigent and cannot afford a lawyer.  The BMC’s – thank you, Chief Justice Johnson– willingness to implement this innovative approach to case management and access to justice is to be commended.  This Standing Order promotes judicial efficiency and will save pro bono, legal services and other attorneys many hours of time, thereby permitting them to help more indigent clients.

– Kathleen Joyce
Director of Government Relations
Boston Bar Association