SALEM — Jury trials will resume on a limited basis in Massachusetts next month, Trial Court officials announced on Thursday.
The Supreme Judicial Court issued an order creating a phased plan for holding trials, starting Oct. 23 with six-member jury trials in a handful of locations.
The trials will be held in courts that have been determined to be able to provide adequate space, ventilation and other resources.
The final list of locations was not announced, but Salem's 9-year-old Ruane Judicial Center was one of the recommendations in a July report from the Jury Management Advisory Committee.
Under the order, only one trial at a time will be held in each location. The order also indicates that lawyers will be limited in the number of peremptory challenges (challenges to potential jurors for no specific cause) they can use during jury selection.
Six-person juries are typically used in lower-level District Court trials, while more serious cases are tried before 12-person juries. The committee acknowledged in its report that the proposed plan would mean further delays for more serious cases.
The order issued Thursday indicates that there will be an evaluation of the first phase before the next phase of re-opening will begin, potentially in February.
Courts will continue conducting proceedings virtually, including some jury-waived trials.
While courthouses, deed registries and probate registries are now open, a majority of court business is being conducted remotely, through teleconferencing and Zoom, to keep the number of people inside the courthouse low.
But the efforts have created a significant backlog of cases.
In federal court, which is not subject to Thursday's order, judges are also grappling with a backlog. During a pretrial hearing Wednesday in a financial fraud case, Judge Denise Casper told the defendant's attorney and a federal prosecutor that she does not anticipate being able to try the case against Beverly resident Tan Kabra until sometime next year. Casper said the case will have to wait for higher-priority ones, involving defendants who are in custody, to be tried first.
State courts have also lifted restrictions on bringing cellphones into courthouses in areas where they had been banned, including Salem District, Juvenile, Superior and Housing Courts, which are all housed in the Ruane Judicial Center on Federal Street.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, email@example.com or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.