Coronavirus Daily Update: Civil & Criminal Trials to Begin in Sept. for Parts of NY

By Christian Nolan

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Good afternoon Members,

In her weekly Monday update, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said the first petit jury summonses went out last week in the Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Judicial Districts, as well as Suffolk County.

DiFiore said a limited number of civil and criminal trials have been scheduled on a pilot basis in those jurisdictions beginning in September.

DiFiore said they would also restart jury trials on a pilot basis in other courts, including in New York City, pursuant to a regional phased-in approach that has guided the statewide restoration of in-person operations.

She said the state court system has worked tirelessly to retrofit their facilities and implement extensive safety measures in preparation for the return of jurors, and spent countless hours learning and planning for how they can safely conduct jury trials based on the specific conditions present in and around each courthouse.

“Now, to be clear, our commitment to incrementally restoring in-court operations and restarting jury trials does not mean that we have any intention of returning soon to the kind of courthouse density that existed before the arrival of COVID-19,” said DiFiore. “Obviously, that would not be a rational or responsible approach on our part.”

DiFiore said the court system was implementing a number of strategies to limit courthouse traffic:

  • Expanding e-filing, especially in high volume courts like the New York City Housing Court. She said e-filing will be in place as soon as Oct. 5 in the Housing Court citywide when Queens and Staten Island come online.
  • Reconfiguring and streamlining the pretrial litigation process for civil matters in order to avoid unnecessary in-court appearances. The courts are in the process of finalizing a uniform citywide preliminary conference form that will be piloted in September.
  • Utilizing a new tool that allows court staff to send group text messages to attorneys and litigants notifying them of when their cases are ready to be heard, so that they can wait in more spacious areas of the courthouse or even outside of the courthouse, rather than everyone congregating in courtrooms waiting for their cases to be called.

Appellate Court Update

DiFiore said the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in person at Court of Appeals Hall during the September session.

Further, all four departments of the Appellate Division will have scheduled in-person oral arguments, as well as remote oral arguments, during the September terms, with all proceedings live-streamed publicly on each of the appellate courts’ websites.

“Of course, appropriate health and safety protocols, including COVID screening, face coverings and social distancing by judges and counsel in the courtroom will be followed,” said DiFiore.

Voting Executive Order

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo today issued an executive order he says will further bolster and support New Yorkers’ right to vote. The order requires county boards of elections to take concrete steps to prepare for the upcoming election, inform voters of upcoming deadlines and help ensure absentee ballots can be used in all elections.

Last Thursday, Cuomo signed into law election reforms that allow absentee ballot applications to be submitted to the Board of Elections immediately, permit a voter to get an absentee ballot due to risk or fear of contracting COVID-19 and ensure all absentee ballots postmarked on or before Election Day – or received by the Board of Elections without a postmark on the day after the Election – will be counted. Ballots with a postmark demonstrating that they were mailed on or before Election Day will be counted if received by Nov. 10.

Today’s executive order requires county boards of elections to take the following actions:

  • Send a mailing outlining all deadlines for voters by Tuesday, Sept. 8.
  • Send staffing plans and needs to the New York State Board of Elections by Sept. 20 so the board can assist in ensuring adequate coverage.
  • Adopt a uniform clarified envelope for absentee ballots and require counties to use it.
  • Count votes faster by requiring all objections to be made by the county board in real time, make sure that boards are ready to count votes and reconcile affidavit and absentee ballots by 48 hours after elections.
  • Provide an option for New Yorkers to vote absentee in village, town and special district elections.

Emergency Task Force Survey

NYSBA’s Emergency Task Force for Solo and Small Firm Practitioners would like to know your experiences with virtual court and client interactions. Please complete the following short survey by August 28th.

COVID-19 Webinars

Wednesday, Aug. 26 – Occupancy Limitation Update: Clarification from New York State Regarding Reopening.

Tuesday, Sept. 1 – Reopening Schools: Legal Issues and Concerns.

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.

NYSBA President Scott M. Karson has penned a letter to law school graduates about the unique challenges facing the Class of 2020. Click here to read the letter.

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

Today, the Miranda Warnings podcast features bestselling author and CNN Legal Analyst Jeffery Toobin to discuss his book ‘True Crimes & Misdemeanors.” Toobin discusses some of the decisions made by key players involved with the Russia investigation including James Comey, Robert Mueller, Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani, one of whom, in Toobin’s view, committed one of the greatest failures of lawyering in American history.

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