Boston Municipal Court
The Boston Municipal Court (BMC), officially the Boston Municipal Court Department of the Trial Court, is a department of the Trial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, United States. The court hears criminal, civil, mental health, restraining orders, and other types of cases. The court also has an appellate division (BMC judges sitting as appellate judges) which hear appeals from decisions in cases previously heard by the eight divisions of the department.
The court's history dates to 1822, the year in which Boston was chartered as a city. Two courts were established, both served by the same justices: the Boston Police Court, to hear criminal matters, and the Justices' Court for the County of Suffolk, to address civil claims. The two courts remained distinct until 1860 when the Justices' Court was abolished, and it's civil jurisdiction transferred to the Police Court. In 1866, the Police Court was abolished, and it's records and jurisdiction transferred to the newly-created Municipal Court of the City of Boston. In 1978, the Massachusetts Court Reform Act established the Boston Municipal Court Department as one of the seven departments of the Trial Court of Massachusetts. In 2003, the department expanded to eight divisions, after it was given authority by the Massachusetts Legislature over seven other Boston-based courts.
The jurisdiction for the Boston Municipal Court Department is within Suffolk County, Massachusetts, and the types of criminal cases that may be filed include most felonies and misdemeanors that do not require a state prison sentence, as well as felonies punishable by a sentence of up to 5 years. If a state prison sentence is mandated, the Court may conduct probable cause hearings to determine whether offenses will be bound over to the Massachusetts Superior Court.
The types of civil cases that may be filed in the BMC include contract and tort actions in which the likely recovery does not exceed $25,000; small claims cases in which the likely recovery does not exceed $7,000 and small claims jury appeals; summary process/eviction cases; supplementary process (collection on a judgment) cases; mental health commitments; abuse prevention/restraining orders and harassment prevention orders; civil motor vehicle infraction appeals; paternity and support actions; and violations of certain city ordinances and by-laws.
The court has jurisdiction for review of findings of the Massachusetts State Police Trial Board and equitable jurisdiction in lead poisoning prevention; landlord interference with quiet enjoyment or failure to provide utilities; sanitary code; and residential nuisances. The court also has jurisdiction to review some government agency actions, such as unemployment compensation appeals and firearms license appeals.
- Brighton Division
- Central Division
- Charlestown Division
- Dorchester Division
- East Boston Division
- Roxbury Division
- South Boston Division
- West Roxbury Division
The court consists of a Chief Justice and 29 Associate Justices appointed by the Governor of Massachusetts with the consent of the Governor's Council. The Justices hold office until the mandatory retirement age of seventy. Chief Justice Roberto Ronquillo, Jr. was appointed in 2013.
Notable former justices include:
- Jennie Loitman Barron, 1937-1959; first woman to serve as a full-time justice in Massachusetts.
- Richard J. Chin, 1989-1993; first Asian-American judge in Massachusetts.
- Harry J. Elam, 1971-1983 (Chief Justice 1978-1983); first African American Chief Justice in Massachusetts, and the first African-American appointee to the BMC.
- Charles A. Grabau, 1979-1985; first Hispanic judge in Massachusetts.
- Dermot Meagher, 1989-2006; first openly gay judge in Massachusetts.
- George Lewis Ruffin, 1883-1886; first African-American judge in the United States.
- George Duncan Wells, 1859-1862; resigned his seat and entered the service during the Civil War, died in Strasburg, VA on October 13, 1864.
Specialty Courts are problem-solving court sessions which provide court-supervised probation and mandated treatment focused on treating the mental health or substance abuse issues underlying criminal behavior. The BMC has the following speciality court sessions:
- Drug Court
- Gun Court
- Homeless Court
- Mental Health Session
- Veterans Treatment Session.