Chief Judge Says Jury Trials Can Be Conducted Safely
Good afternoon Members,
In her weekly coronavirus update, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said today the court system has confirmed that with the exercise of careful and meticulous preparation, it is possible to safely conduct jury trials.
The court system has done this by utilizing courtrooms that are large enough to permit social distancing; implementing important safety measures like plexiglass barriers, COVID screening and temperature checks; and, by being disciplined in using PPE, such as face masks.
“Our judges and staff have shown everyone that it can be done, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for their excellent work to maintain and uphold the right to a trial by jury in the New York State Courts during these very challenging times,” said DiFiore.
The courts plan to continue scheduling a limited number of jury trials in courthouses across New York. They are prepared to respond quickly and scale back, if metrics indicate it is best to do so.
The court system is “working nonstop to expand and improve our virtual court capabilities.”
A major priority in this regard is the New York Family Court, which has heard thousands of urgent, time-sensitive neglect and abuse, family offense and juvenile delinquency matters during the pandemic.
The court is looking to resolve pending cases more efficiently and effectively, including implementing specially-designed voice recognition software in all courtroom parts across the city by the end of the month. “The voice recognition software is a critical piece of technology that will streamline and speed the conduct of virtual proceedings while producing more accurate recordings of the proceedings,” DiFiore said.
Last week was “week two” of the resumption of criminal jury trials in New York City. All four of the trials that started in Kings and New York counties during the week of Oct. 26th were successfully tried to a verdict.
On the civil side, eight cases were successfully tried to a verdict in New York City over the last two weeks. Outside of New York City, judges and professional staff have conducted 36 criminal and civil jury trials since September, with another 16 in progress.
Access to Justice
“In an effort that will also reduce public density in our buildings and help reduce the spread of COVID-19,” the court is working to improve access to justice through technology. “While we have done an excellent job of leveraging technology to create a just and well-functioning virtual court system, we know that many litigants lack access to the technology needed to fully participate in virtual proceedings, including high-quality computer devices and high-speed internet,” DiFiore said.
Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Edwina Mendelson and her staff at the Office for Justice Initiatives are working to bridge that digital divide through collaborative initiatives such as court-based kiosks and faith-based access centers outside New York City. The court is creating “court access community centers” across New York City: safe, secure and convenient locations in underserved communities where unrepresented litigants can utilize technology to receive remote legal services, prepare and e-file court papers and fully participate in court proceedings.
Thursday, Nov. 12 – The COVID-19 Crisis And New York City’s Response: Legal Issues
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