Chief Judge Reacts to Judiciary Budget Cuts, NYC Adopts Uniform Case Scheduling Order

By Christian Nolan

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In her first weekly address since the news broke that the governor will cut the state judiciary budget by 10%, or roughly $300 million, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said the decision by the Administrative Board of the Courts to deny the applications of 46 Supreme Court justices for certification or recertification to additional two year-terms of service beginning Jan. 1, 2021 will save them about $55 million over the next two years.

DiFiore is hopeful that a strict hiring freeze and a deferral on raises will also help them to avoid or limit layoffs to their nonjudicial workforce, “something we regard as an absolute last resort,” DiFiore said.

“As a responsible partner in state government, we accept our obligation to share in the sacrifices being made by the rest of the state at this difficult time, but from an institutional perspective, we are losing a group of highly experienced public servants at a critical moment in our history,” said DiFiore. “And, of course, on a personal level, it is disappointing to see the judicial careers of friends and colleagues end in this fashion.”

New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson expressed his concerns over the judiciary budget cuts.

“This budget cut is a matter of grave concern to the New York State Bar Association because it will inevitably create hardship for litigants and delay the administration of justice,” said Karson. “The association is keenly aware that these are difficult times, but that makes it even more important that our federal and state governments work together to find revenue sources and restore this money. Let’s make sure that justice delayed is not justice denied.”

Pilot Jury Trial Update

In updating the pilot in-person jury trial program outside New York City, DiFiore said 54 civil

and criminal jury trials had been scheduled through last week and 16 of those trials have now been completed, four are in progress, 27 resulted in settlements or plea agreements and seven were adjourned. And for this week, they have scheduled another 13 jury trials – eight civil and five criminal – in Nassau and Suffolk Counties and the Third, Fifth, Seventh and Ninth Judicial Districts.

“And you can be sure that our New York City judges and professional staff are watching the progress of our jury pilot with great interest as they meticulously plan and prepare for the first civil and criminal jury trials scheduled to begin in our New York City courthouses later this month,” said DiFiore.

DiFiore said that New York City has had 35 grand juries empaneled since Aug. 10 and that there have been no reported incidents involving the 800-plus grand jurors or the dozens of lawyers, witnesses and others who participated in those proceedings.

Uniform Case Scheduling Order

Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the New York City Courts George J. Silver announced that as of today the New York City courts will adopt a uniform case scheduling order in all civil cases where the City of New York is named as a defendant.

Official said the uniform case scheduling order is the first of its kind – a comprehensive, court-issued order outlining everything from deposition dates to an exhaustive list of specific disclosures that must be made in certain types of cases, like traditional slip and fall lawsuits.

In consideration of the ongoing pandemic, the uniform case scheduling order will be issued at the outset of a case without the need for in-person conferencing. Instead, clerks will enter dates for discovery disclosures once a request for a preliminary conference is filed.

To ensure that discovery dates do not conflict with attorney and witness schedules, the clerks will contact the parties to solicit important initial information in all cases. For instance, attorneys may be asked to provide a range of acceptable deposition dates and to disclose whether the right to a General Municipal Law section 50-h hearing has been waived. Once such information is received, it will be entered into the uniform case scheduling order, reviewed by the presiding judge in a designated city part, and issued.

For years, litigants and attorneys alike have endured avoidable challenges when navigating fragmented and unsimilar rules across the five counties within New York City. Officials said the court’s uniform case scheduling order addresses that by adopting a set of comprehensible, simplified, and standardized rules in thousands of civil cases litigated throughout the city.

Westchester Access to Justice Initiative

The state court system has announced an access to justice initiative aimed at low-income Westchester County residents who have been unable to access the virtual courts amid the coronavirus pandemic because they lack the necessary technology.

The new Faith-Based Court Access (FCA) initiative is led by Ninth Judicial District Administrative Judge Kathie Davidson and is a partnership between the Ninth Judicial District, Westchester County Executive George Latimer’s office and faith leaders throughout the county.

The program is being rolled out on a pilot basis, offering a network of fully equipped, remote access sites in houses of worship located across Westchester County.

The following services will be offered at each of the pilot sites:

  • Access to computers, video cameras, microphones, scanners and printers to enable litigants to participate in court proceedings.
  • Access to a private area where litigants can prepare documentation for court proceedings.
  • A congregation point person to assist the litigant with the provided technology.
  • Access to a telephone and WiFi connections to communicate with service providers for pro bono assistance with court forms.

“With the launch of this novel initiative, many of Westchester County’s neediest litigants will now be able to consult with a legal services provider online or participate in a virtual court proceeding from the safety of their local house of worship,” said Judge Davidson.

Click here for more information, including a list of the initial FCA sites.

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, Oct. 6 – What Makes a Virtual Lawyer Happy.

Friday, Oct. 9 – New Platform To Communicate With the Courts: Microsoft Teams!

Thursday, Oct. 15 – Litigating Nursing Home Cases Post the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Latest NYSBA.ORG Coronavirus News

We are adding new content each day to our website related to the coronavirus public health emergency and its impact on the legal community.

We take a look at COVID-19 and nursing homes as NYSBA held a Continuing Legal Education webinar today entitled “Nursing Home Reform: The COVID Crisis and Regulations, Oversight and the Economics of Nursing Homes.”

In addition to coronavirus updates, we are adding other interesting new content to our website.

The New York State Bar Association Task Force on the Presidential Election, chaired by veteran election lawyer Jerry H. Goldfeder, is inviting reporters and lawyers to an information session on the laws that will determine how the winner of the November election is determined. The task force includes some of the most experienced election law scholars in the state. These experts will describe laws governing the Electoral College and the role of Congress in the process. The session, “Presidential Transfer of Power,” will be held at noon on Tuesday, Oct. 13th.

NYSBA’s Task Force on Racial Injustice and Police Reform held its second public forum last week and panelists suggested better transparency and mental health response.

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