NEFAC Provides Resources Addressing Massachusetts Clerk-Magistrate Hearing Secrecy

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |

The New England First Amendment Coalition today published a resource page on its website to increase public awareness of secret clerk-magistrate hearings in Massachusetts.

Clerk-magistrate hearings — also called “show cause” hearings” — began in 1943 and were intended as a way to resolve minor criminal matters without a public trial and publicity.

Hearing schedules and records are not generally available to the public. Members of the public, according to a 2007 Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision, have no First Amendment right to attend the hearings unlike other court proceedings.

The secrecy, as detailed in a 2018 investigation by The Boston Globe, has allowed powerful and wealthy individuals to evade accountability for not just misdemeanors but also felonies and other serious crimes.

“No other state in the country has a system like this,” said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director. “It’s a broken system that can only be fixed with more transparency and public access.”

NEFAC’s new resource page is part of the coalition’s multi-state FOI Guide. In addition to background on the clerk-magistrate hearings, the page features the following:

• Summaries of court decisions.
• Links to legislation intending to reform the system.
• A step-by-step guide on how clerk-magistrate hearings can be opened to the public.
• A log of public requests for access.
• Links to data on the hearings and the types of cases being heard.
• Other resources and helpful press coverage.

NEFAC is the region’s leading advocate for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know about government. In addition to proving resources like its FOI Guide, the coalition hosts free educational workshops, provides guest speakers and instructors, drafts amicus briefs and advocacy letters, runs a journalism mentorship program, and offers an exclusive multi-day investigative journalism training institute every fall, among many other public services. Learn more about how our coalition is helping the region.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.