Daily Coronavirus Update: Civil & Criminal Trials Outside NYC Could Begin Next Month

By Christian Nolan

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Good afternoon Members,

During her weekly Monday update, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that outside New York City, the state court system’s administrative, supervising and trial judges, along with other professional staff, are busy finalizing plans to restart jury trials in civil and criminal cases as early as September and October.

“We have asked that each plan be specifically tailored and customized to the specific conditions present in and around each court, and for every plan to prioritize social distancing, cleanliness, and the creation of an environment that instills confidence in jurors, staff, lawyers, witnesses and all other participants,” said DiFiore.

DiFiore said the court system’s recent experience in restarting and completing several suspended jury trials around the state, including in Cortland and Suffolk and Bronx counties – as well as the state’s first hybrid criminal bench trial involving both Skype and live courtroom testimony in Nassau County – has helped further refine the plan to responsibly move forward with “petit jury trials.”

DiFiore also noted that outside New York City, grand jury summonses have gone out for the tenth term beginning Sept. 8 and by that time, over 100 grand juries will have been empaneled since jury summonses resumed on July 13.

In New York City, DiFiore said the courts are conducting virtual summary bench trials in civil matters in Supreme Court, Bronx County, and expanding that program to New York County effective this week.

“These streamlined trials, in which the parties consent to relaxed rules of evidence and shorter time frames for presenting their cases, are often completed in a single day,” said DiFiore. “We are working to expand the program to jurisdictions outside the City, with Nassau County on our radar screen for the near future.”

In order to improve the efficiency of pretrial litigation and further the goal of limiting courthouse traffic during the pandemic, DiFiore said the courts are developing a uniform preliminary conference order for use in civil courts citywide. The uniform order will identify the pretrial issues that can be resolved by the parties on consent or through virtual court conferences. The court system has reached out to the bar and the affected stakeholders to get input on the new preliminary conference form and expects to pilot this project in motor vehicle tort cases and tort claims pending against the City beginning in September.

In the New York City Family Court, DiFiore said three new virtual intake parts were added over the last week, bringing the citywide total to 10. Two of the new virtual parts are dedicated to hearing a rising number of family offense cases and the third is dedicated exclusively to holding emergency hearings so that the judges in the other nine intake parts can move through their calendars more efficiently.

 

Judicial Safety and Security

DiFiore said the court system is “laser focused” on the safety and security of everyone who works in and visits the courthouses to prevent incidents and threats including those often directed at judges.

 

First, she said court personnel are working alongside federal judicial colleagues in New York State, and with representatives of both state and federal law enforcement, to advance legislation that will shield from public view the personal information of judges and their families.

Further, she said with input and participation from the New York State Police, the state courts are conducting an in‐depth assessment of the judicial threat management process with an eye toward strengthening all policies and protocols, including how the courts gather and maintain intelligence about potential threats and provide protective services when necessary.

When completed, DiFiore said the courts will implement any and all responsible recommendations and best practices “so as to ensure that we have the most effective safety and security measures in place throughout the state.”

 

Senate Hearing on Court Reopening Friday

A joint state Senate committee hearing is scheduled for Friday, Aug. 21, at 10 a.m. to examine the reopening and operation of New York’s courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hearing will provide an opportunity to examine the status of proceedings and the ability to file new matters in the courts, consider measures taken by the state court system to reduce the spread of COVID-19 at in-person proceedings, ascertain the unique impacts on individuals of legal proceedings during the pandemic and contemplate additional potential plans and actions.

The virtual public hearing is a joint session with the following Senate standing committees: Judiciary; Codes; and Housing, Construction and Community Development.

Click here for more information about the hearing.

 

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, Aug. 18Publishing Contracts: Boilerplate Provisions Newly Significant Now.

Friday, Aug. 21Grand Jury Presentations & Representing Clients In Grand Jury – NYSBA Trial Academy Virtual Conference.

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

 

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.

Today NYSBA announced the release of “Virtual Lawyering: A Practical Guide,” a centralized resource of 22 practical chapters and subchapters authored by former federal judges, former law clerks and some of the leading New York practitioners in their fields. The 341-page book is the first of its kind to be published by a bar association in the United States. It is now available for purchase on the NYSBA Online Store ($45 for members; $60 for non-members).

We also take a look at the future of Upstate courts with hybrid models, multiple courtrooms and no jury rooms. Hon. Vito C. Caruso, deputy chief administrative judge outside NYC, recently detailed the courts’ operations during a recent NYSBA CLE webinar.

NYSBA President Scott M. Karson says that during these uncertain times alliances “are more important and meaningful than ever.” His comments came as part of a historic collaboration between NYSBA and the Women In Law Section and the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) and their Women Forum. The memorandum of understanding between the two associations was signed Thursday during a virtual ceremony with more than 500 people in attendance.

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