Keith Hovan. Credit: Southcoast Health

WAREHAM — When the courts opened Monday morning, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County ordered a halt to the show cause hearing for Southcoast Health CEO Keith A. Hovan, originally scheduled for Monday, pending further review by an SJC justice. 

The motion for a halt or “stay” in the proceeding was filed by The New Bedford Light last week, as was a petition to open the hearing to the public. An assistant clerk with the SJC said the justice may reach a decision by the week’s end, but that there is no guarantee. 

Hovan’s counsel, Christopher M. Markey, filed a six-page opposition to the petition, stating The Light in its petitions “failed to establish a special public significance and a legitimate public interest which (outweighs) the right to privacy.”

Markey also stated Hovan is not a public official and that the allegations do not involve behavior undertaken in his official capacity as Southcoast Health CEO and president (though currently on paid leave). He stated The Light’s petition, which was written and filed pro se (without legal representation), had “significant procedural deficiencies.”

In conclusion, Markey wrote, “Mr. Hovan requests that this Honorable Court deny thePetitioner’s request for extraordinary relief of allowing the public access to this … hearing and the stay of the proceedings.”

The SJC order acknowledged both The Light’s petition and Markey’s filing of opposition.

“Upon consideration thereof, it is (hereby) ORDERED that the show cause hearing is STAYED, pending further order of this Court,” the order states.  

Show cause hearings are in most cases held when a person has not been arrested, but is accused by law enforcement or another individual of committing a crime. Massachusetts is an outlier in closing these hearings to the public and press. 

The reasoning is rooted, in part, in a person’s right to privacy, with an interest in protecting people from “undeserved notoriety, embarrassment and disgrace” if complaints against them are denied and no charges are issued, according to state district court standards.

A person or organization can request a show cause hearing be opened to the public (and thereby the press) by arguing that legitimate public interests outweigh the accused’s right of privacy, according to the court standards.

It is not sufficient that the accused is well known or a public official. A request should also show the incident has attracted public attention, thereby diminishing the interest in shielding the accused’s privacy, the court standards state. 

However, a court opinion cited by the standards states that not every case that attracts public attention “necessarily requires” a public hearing.

The Rochester Police Department in November of 2021 filed a summons for a felony charge against Hovan for alleged possession of illegal firearms magazines or feeding devices, according to a police report.

Police arrested and charged Hovan in early November with assault and battery, a charge that was dismissed in December in Wareham District Court after the alleged victim chose not to testify.

As part of their procedure following an arrest for assault, police removed more than 40 legal firearms that were securely stored in Hovan’s home. They also found ammunition magazines (just over 80 of which they allege are illegal) and about 19,500 rounds of ammunition (also stored securely), according to the police department and records. 

The purpose of the show cause hearing, which is now on hold under the SJC order, is to determine whether the Rochester Police Department has probable cause to charge Hovan with the felony offense. 

If the Wareham clerk magistrate overseeing the hearing finds no probable cause, then Hovan will not be charged. 

Email Anastasia Lennon at

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