Spring Superior Court session underway
The spring Superior Court session began April 17 at the Dukes County Courthouse. The session, including a variety of civil and criminal cases, is expected to stretch until May 4, with Associate Justice John S. McCann of Worcester presiding.
Superior Court is done a little bit differently on Martha's Vineyard. Although the Island handles between 150 and 180 criminal and civil cases each year, according to clerk of courts Joseph Sollitto, Superior Court only convenes for two extended sessions a year, usually in the spring and fall. The court also convenes for individual days as needed throughout the year, when a judge will come from off-Island to handle jury-waived matters and other cases that need immediate attention.
The last extended session ran from Oct. 2 until Nov. 3. Judge Judith Fabricant presided over the month-long session.
The Superior Court adjudicates cases of rape, murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and drug trafficking, and Assistant District Attorney Laura Marshard prosecutes the criminal cases. Civil suits valued at more than $25,000 are also tried in Superior Court.
In order to have a case heard in the Superior Court, the accused must first be indicted by the Grand Jury - a panel of 23 civilians who sit for a six-month period. During that time, they report to duty only a handful of days to consider indictments on pending cases. The Grand Jury is selected on the first day of the session, and only 13 members must sit in order to hand up an indictment.
Since the Superior Court is not in daily session on the Island, the Edgartown courthouse uses up-to-date technology to handle impending matters. People who come in for bail reviews are entitled to a hearing within a day or two, so the Dukes County Superior Court uses a video conferencing system, by which the Island court can easily connect to another court through an electronic video connection. Judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and defendant need not be in the same room.
The Superior Court has been using the video conferencing system for two years, but not all courts are so technically advanced. Barnstable has the equipment, for example, but Fall River does not.
Barbara J. Rouse, Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Massachusetts, selects the judge who will travel to the Island and sit for each Superior Court session. A new judge is chosen for each session.
Judges who are asked to make the trek to Martha's Vineyard typically rent a house for the month or stay in a hotel, Mr. Sollitto said. If the judge lives close by, he or she will sometimes make a daily commute.
Although the Vineyard is a nice place to spend a few weeks in the spring, the judges don't have much free time to enjoy the Island. Mr. Sollitto said the judges work five days a week, and often far past the courthouse's four pm closing hour.