A look inside the state’s ‘secret courts’

In the darkest corner of Massachusetts’ justice system, criminal charges often disappear without a trace. There are few rules in these private hearings, and fewer records. They are a place where who you are — and who you know — may be just as important as right and wrong.

// How we got inside Mass.’ ‘secret court’ system

There’s an obvious obstacle to reporting on the inner workings of Massachusetts’ “secret court” system: It’s secret.

Latest on the ‘secret courts’

// Questions surface over Kevin Spacey’s ‘secret court’ hearing

Before Monday’s arraignment, the actor’s lawyers were given a special opportunity to have his case reviewed in a mini-trial-type setting where charges can be dropped out of public view.

Spotlight Follow

// Private citizens sometimes seek charges against their accusers in secret courts

Massachusetts is one of a small number of states that allow private citizens to go before clerk magistrates to lodge serious criminal complaints that are vetted, and sometimes settled, in secretive hearings.

Spotlight Follow

// Panel is charged with reviewing state’s ‘secret courts’

Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey convened a “Trial Court Working Group” to review the way these hearings operate, according to court spokeswoman Jennifer Donahue.


// Secret courts in Massachusetts don’t have to be so secret

There is no substitute for justice delivered in the bright light of day — even by clerk magistrates.

Adrian Walker

// Time to open up the state’s ‘Secret Courts’ — or end them completely

Clerks play an essential role in the legal system, but they should not be mini-judges. They shouldn’t decide cases at all.

Opinion | Rachelle G. Cohen

// Secret courts: too much power, too little transparency

So far, all we’re hearing from the SJC and its Chief Justice Ralph Gants about the state’s problematic show-cause hearings is crickets.


// Spotlight report on court clerks reveals system needs public scrutiny

We’re the only state in the country with these private hearings. If we’re going to hold onto them, we’ve got to make sure the people running them are equipped to do the job.

What happened to Aaron Hernandez?

Coverage: Aaron Hernandez on trial

The former Patriot was put on trial — and convicted — in the 2013 killing of associate Odin Lloyd.


// Listen to ‘Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc.’

The Spotlight Team’s series looks at the path Hernandez took from Bristol, Conn., to a life sentence in a Mass. prison.


// Inmate: Hernandez high on K2 for 2 days before suicide

New information that had been redacted by prison officials expands on previous reports of drug use by the former Patriot.

// 10 key points from the Spotlight Team series

The report the story of a profoundly troubled young man and the ugly underside of America’s most popular sport.

// A double life revealed through text messages

Texts between Aaron Hernandez and his teammates and coaches show just how much he was spinning out of control.

// Listen to some of Hernandez’s phone calls from jail

At the time of the conversations, Hernandez was just 24 years old and still hopeful about his future.

‘Last Seen’: The 1990 Gardner heist

The Globe and WBUR are re-examining this epic theft and digging up new details. Come along on this 10-part adventure, analyze the evidence, and posit your own theories.

Episode 8


Did a serial con artist from Swampscott rob the Gardner Museum?

Episode 7

// I Was The One

Why did the thieves take those 13 pieces? The answer to that question could tell us so much.

Episode 6

// Befriend + Betray

Did the Boston FBI sabotage another bureau agent’s undercover bid to recover the paintings?

The Globe's investigative journalism

Celebrating The Boston Globe's first Pulitzer Prize in 1966 were, from left (front row): Bob Healy, Washington bureau chief; Tom Winship, editor; (back row) reporters Joseph M Harvey; Martin Nolan; Anson “Bud” Smith; Richard Connolly; and editorial page editor Charles Whipple.

Globe File/1966

A distinguished history of digging up the truth

A short history of investigative reporting at The Boston Globe. It’s played a defining role in the pages of this newspaper since the 1960s.

More from the archives

The desperate and the dead

The state’s failed mental health care system has led to a public safety crisis, including scores of murders by disturbed people, police shootings, and embattled institutions from courts to hospitals confronting a tidal wave of mentally ill people.

How to give a tip

//[1]-0091.jpg Contact the Globe Spotlight Team

Information for the team’s tip-line, e-mail, PGP key, and USPS mail.

Inside 'Spotlight'

// The movie and the investigations

A look at The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team, its award-winning investigative coverage, and the movie based on its reporting on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Previous investigations

State Police OT scandal (2018)

An investigation found that dozens of active and retired troopers allegedly put in for overtime shifts they didn’t work.

The Boston Marathon bombings (2013)


Coverage of two blasts that shook the city, killing 3 and injuring at least 170, and the ensuing manhunt resulting in the death of a MIT police officer, the death of one suspect, and the capture of another.