Court Operations Challenges Easing as Omicron Trends Downward
In her biweekly update, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that as the number of judges and court staff testing positive for COVID-19 has decreased dramatically, the difficulties that some courts were experiencing due to isolation and quarantine have eased.
The numbers are consistent with a statewide trend showing a significant decline in the number of COVID infections.
DiFiore said she is encouraged by the downward trend and “hopeful that this means that the latest winter surge fueled by the Omicron variant has finally subsided.”
“We will stay vigilant and continue to enforce all of the health and safety protocols that have worked well to keep our courthouses safe,” she said.
“Our judges, staff, court leaders and managers did an outstanding job of responding to every operational challenge presented,” said DiFiore. “As a result of their good work, I am pleased to report that we experienced very little, if any, disruption in court access or productivity statewide.”
DiFiore turned her attention to the “serious problem of gun violence, which is reported to have become a crisis in many of our communities.”
Last week, Mayor Eric Adams announced a public safety plan to combat gun violence in New York City. “The court system is committed to doing its part to ensure the fair and timely adjudication of these serious cases filed in our courts,” said DiFiore.
She has asked Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Deborah Kaplan, and Judge George Grasso, administrative judge for criminal matters in Queens Supreme Court, to expand the multi-prong initiative that Judge Grasso has been overseeing since last August to reduce the backlog of felony gun possession cases in New York City. Judge Kaplan has convened all of the administrative judges who oversee criminal court operations in New York City and is working with Judge to develop an effective plan to prioritize and expedite the resolution of gun cases.
Under the updated plan, teams of judges have been designated in each borough to expedite pretrial hearings and preside over pleas and trials.
“We are making staffing and operational adjustments that will enable us to schedule more hearings and trials in anticipation of an increased number of arrests and prosecutions involving charges of illegal gun possession,” said DiFiore.
Since the expiration of the moratorium, the courts have seen a noticeable uptick in eviction filings in the New York City Housing Court. Housing Court judges and staff had been preparing for this eventuality for many months, and they are hard at work hearing and adjudicating these cases, which are being calendared both in-person and virtually, depending on what is most appropriate for each particular case.
In New York City, Judge Carolyn Walker-Diallo, administrative judge of the Civil Court, and the supervising judges in each borough, are closely watching the foot traffic in Housing Court facilities and making daily adjustments to court calendars to balance efficiency with safety.
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