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The Commonwealth’s highest Court, the Supreme Judicial Court, amended its current orders and Massachusetts rules regarding electronic signature of legal documents to allow for broader usage of this practice during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, in all courts and case types, whenever an attorney or self-represented party is required to sign a document to be served on another party or filed with the court, the attorney or self-represented party may electronically sign, unless the court specifically orders otherwise.

The electronic signature may take the form of either a scan of the attorney’s or self-represented party’s handwritten signature, an electronically inserted image intended to substitute for a signature, or a “/s/ name of signatory” block.

Above: An example of Attorney McDonough’s scanned electronic signature. The alternative format would appear as: “/s/ Michael G. McDonough”

Under the Court’s new order, an electronic signature “shall have the same force and effect as if the attorney or self-represented party had affixed her or his original signature to a paper copy of the document so signed.”

In cases where a party intends to serve “an affidavit signed under the pains of perjury, but the party making service has been unable to secure the affiant’s original handwritten signature, or a scanned or photographed copy thereof, due to constraints arising from the coronavirus pandemic,” then the affidavit may still be served and subsequently filed with the court if the affiant has signed the affidavit electronically. The Supreme Judicial Court has directed that in such a case the “attorney or self-represented party shall thereafter take steps to secure the affidavit bearing the affiant’s original handwritten signature as soon as practicable.”

The Court provided guidance in cases where misconduct is suspected. If a party has “a good faith basis to believe that an electronic signature was not authorized by the attorney, self-represented party, or other person whose signature it purports to be,” then such party may challenge the signature by way of motion. If the motion has merit, the court may, among other things, “strike the challenged document and/or direct that it be served or filed again with an original handwritten signature.”

For a copy of the Court’s order, see below.

SJC Order on Electronic Signatures
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