Opening Week at the SJC
In case you missed it, last Monday (9/6) was what Chief Justice Gants called "Opening Day" at the Supreme Judicial Court as the justices of the state's highest court took the bench for the first time in the September session - with three new faces among them - Justices Graziano, Lowy, and Budd. With two more justices - Justice Botsford and Justice Hines - scheduled to retire in 2017, the Court is undergoing a significant transition over a relatively short period. To be seen is how the Court's new makeup will affect the policy and rulings that come out of the Court.
The first case up before the newly configured Court was George v. George, a family law case that raises the question of "whether a judge, on a complaint for modification of an alimony judgment that predated the Alimony Reform Act, may properly deviate from the durational limits of G.L. c. 208, § 49, on the basis that the alimony provisions of the parties' separation agreement, which were merged into the judgment, were inextricably connected with the property division provisions of the agreement, which survived the judgment." The SJC took the case sua sponte from the Appeals Court and solicited amicus briefs (although the docket does not show any having been received).
Opening week at the Court also brought argument in 18 other cases, including a dozen criminal cases with issues ranging from sufficiency of the evidence, standard of proof (e.g., Commonwealth v. Maguire: what is the standard of proof necessary to convict for the crime of "open and gross lewdness"?) and rulings on motions to suppress, to statutory interpretation (e.g., Commonwealth v. LeBlanc: can a defendant be convicted of falsely reporting a crime to a police officer when the report was to employees of the sheriff's office? and Commonwealth v. Gernich: can a defendant be convicted of leaving the scene of an accident where the accident happened on a private way not on a public road?) and requirements for instructions to the grand jury (Commonwealth v. Grassis: must Commonwealth instruct grand jury about mitigating circumstances or defenses when seeking murder indictment where there is evidence of mitigating circumstances or defenses "sufficiently strong that the integrity of the grand jury would have been impaired if it were withheld").
The Court also heard In re Chism, which raises the question of whether exhibits in a motion to suppress hearing (here, a videotaped confession) are judicial records to which the public (in this case, intervenor, the Boston Globe), has a right of access, either under the First Amendment or as a common right of access subject to the "good cause" impoundment standard. The appeal is from an order of a single justice of the SJC (Duffly, J.), which reversed the Superior Court's order allowing access to the videotaped confession.
Oral arguments were active, with the new Justices jumping right in with questions.
While the SJC did not sit it session in July and August, it continued to issue decisions throughout the summer. Still, a number of noteworthy and significant cases argued back in the early spring are still pending after the Court issued orders waiving the 130 day rule, including cases we have written about before: Partanen v. Gallagher (parental rights of non-biological, unmarried same sex parent), Shrine of Our Lady of LaSalette v. Board of Assessors of Attleboro (application and interpretation of the property tax exemption applied to religious houses of worship) and Commonwealth v. Laltaprasad (can a judge depart from mandatory minimum sentences for conviction for possession of drugs with intent to distribute).
Stay tuned. Every week is a big week at the SJC.