Courts Safely Navigating the Omicron Surge

By Brandon Vogel

Courts Safely Navigating the Omicron Surge

1.17.2022

By Brandon Vogel

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In her biweekly address to the public, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said she has encouraged judges to exercise their discretion to schedule virtual court appearances when needed to reduce public density and relieve the staffing pressures that some courts are experiencing due to isolation and quarantine.

“At this point in time, we are relying more heavily on the virtual component of our hybrid court model for some types of appearances, we strongly believe that certain types of proceedings must continue to move forward on an in-person basis, most notably jury trials and criminal arraignments, and that is because we all know and understand that the significant rights and interests at stake in those proceedings, including considerations of access to justice and court operations, are best served by having the parties and their counsel appear in-person before a judge,” said DiFiore.

Thanks to the confidence and participation of New Yorkers showing up to serve on juries, the courts have been able to empanel grand juries and schedule jury trials without any significant disruptions.

Although too soon to make predictions, DiFiore noted that the number of judges and staff testing positive for COVID-19 has been trending downward over the last few days, particularly in New York City and downstate regions of the state. “We are hopeful that the operational pressures caused by the Omicron variant will soon subside,” said DiFiore.

Eviction Moratorium

DiFiore acknowledged that the moratorium on evictions ended on Saturday, Jan. 15.

In New York City, Housing Court judges and staff, led by Carolyn Walker-Diallo, the administrative judge of the New York City Civil Court, have been preparing for the moratorium’s expiration for many months. They are ready to adjudicate these cases, which will be calendared both in-person and virtually. Scheduled trials will take place in-person, virtually, or in a hybrid form combining both.

The courts have been coordinating with the city’s Office of Civil Justice to connect unrepresented tenants with legal service attorneys at their first appearance in Housing Court. “This is a key point, because when both sides are represented by counsel not only are the rights of all parties fully protected, but we are able to avoid unnecessary delays and adjournments,” said DiFiore.

Equal justice

DiFiore updated the public on the work of the judges and court staff who are serving on our Equal Justice Committees, now established in every Judicial District in the state, including New York City, to help implement Secretary Johnson’s recommendations and effectively change the courts’ institutional culture from the bottom up.

Last month, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives Edwina Mendelson hosted a statewide meeting of the chairs of the Equal Justice committees to discuss the broad range of creative initiatives that are underway in support of the mission to promote equity, diversity and inclusion across all courts and jurisdictions.

DiFiore thanked them for their “important, important work that fosters public trust and confidence in our courts, and in the justice system.”

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Tuesday, Jan. 25  – The Ethics Of Working Remotely During The Pandemic And Beyond

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