Daily Coronavirus Update: Jury Trials Underway in NY, Thousands Report for Grand Jury Duty

By Christian Nolan

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Good afternoon Members,

In her weekly update today, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said the state’s first jury trial “pilots” began last week in Suffolk, Schuyler and Erie counties where there were five new jury trials – four civil and one criminal. All five started on schedule and a civil trial in Suffolk County reached a verdict Friday afternoon.

This week, DiFiore said the jury trial pilots will expand to the following counties: St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Washington, Onondaga, Broome and Westchester.

“We describe them as pilots because we are using them as an opportunity to carefully examine and study every phase of the process in order to frame the most effective protocols and best practices to safeguard everyone’s health and safety as we pursue in-person jury trials on a larger scale,” DiFiore explained.

DiFiore said thousands of grand jurors reported for service last week across the state “and the selection process went smoothly with more than 30 grand juries empaneled across the state, including 17 in New York City alone.”

“…[I]t was very close to the turnout levels we would see in the days before COVID, demonstrating the clear desire of New Yorkers to perform their civic duty and their expectation that our courts and the justice system should, indeed, be functioning as normally as possible,” DiFiore added.

Daily Disruption
Last week during the September session of the Court of Appeals, an attorney scheduled for an in-person oral argument registered a body temperature that exceeded the recommended threshold while being screened for entry in the courthouse lobby and had to be turned away.

DiFiore said that while the last-minute cancellation of that argument and the need to reschedule the appeal was extremely disappointing and inconvenient for everyone involved, the more important point is that the screening process worked exactly as it is intended to work, placing health and safety above all else.

“And what this incident at the Court of Appeals underscores is that we’re all going to have to live with, and become accustomed to, a certain amount of daily disruption and inconvenience as part of our ‘new normal,’” said DiFiore. “And you know what? That’s OK. It’s OK because at the end of the day this is a small price to pay in order to safeguard the health and safety of every one of us as we press on in our responsibility to safely restore services for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”

Legal Services Hearing
DiFiore also announced that on Sept. 21, she will be presiding over the 11th annual Public

Hearing on Civil Legal Services in New York. She will be joined in person at Court of Appeals Hall in Albany by Chief Administrative Judge Larry Marks, the four presiding justices of the Appellate Division – Rolando Acosta, Alan Scheinkman, Elizabeth Garry and Gerald Whalen – and New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson.

Most of the presenters will appear virtually and the event will be streamed live on the court’s website beginning at 1 p.m. She said she hopes the event will help them understand the nature and extent of the “access gap” they are facing as a result of the added complications caused by the pandemic, and be provided with helpful recommendations for future action to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to needed legal services during and in the aftermath of the ongoing crisis.

Along those lines, she explained that last week, the state court system opened the Monroe County “Special COVID Intervention Part,” or SCIP, in the Seventh Judicial District. She said the goal of SCIP is to provide a fair and efficient procedure for the parties in eviction proceedings, a procedure that includes ADR options, and in the case of low-income tenants facing eviction, on-site access to legal counsel, emergency rent assistance and other critical services provided by government agencies and nonprofits.

The key to SCIP, DiFiore said, is connecting tenants with legal counsel prior to their scheduled court appearances, as it not only ensures protection of their rights in court but often enables the parties to reach fair settlements without the time and expense of formal court proceedings. On its first day of operations, 40 cases were scheduled in the SCIP and every tenant who appeared was screened and given the opportunity to access available resources and services.

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, Sept. 15 – The Impact of the Pandemic On Nonprofit Corporate Governance.

Thursday, Sept. 17 – COVID-19’s Impact On Franchising.

Thursday, Sept. 17 – An Evening With the Commercial Division Judges.

Thursday, Sept. 17 – Making Objections and Rules of Evidence – NYSBA Trial Academy Virtual Conference.

Latest NYSBA.ORG News

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

NYSBA has appointed veteran election lawyer Jerry H. Goldfeder to chair a task force of legal scholars who will advise fellow attorneys, journalists and members of the public on issues related to the upcoming 2020 presidential race.

Also today Elizabeth Fegan, lead counsel for several plaintiffs in a civil suit against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, joins the Miranda Warnings podcast to discuss the likelihood of her case becoming a class action suit, the impact of Weinstein’s bankruptcy on any future successful judgments and possible delays to key aspects of the civil suit that could result from Weinstein’s upcoming trial in Los Angeles.

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