Daily Coronavirus Update: NY Court System Announces Surrogate’s Court Pro Bono Partnership With NYSBA

By Christian Nolan

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Good evening Members,

The New York State Unified Court System announced a partnership today with the New York State Bar Association to coordinate a Surrogate’s Court pro bono effort in which volunteer lawyers will assist economically disadvantaged family members who lost loved ones as a result of COVID-19.

The effort will be spearheaded by Michael Miller, immediate past NYSBA president and a long-time trusts and estates attorney. The initiative will match families with specially-trained volunteer attorneys. Attorneys will be available for assignment to these cases upon completion of forthcoming web-based training.

“The New York legal community has always risen to the task in times of crisis,” said Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. “I am grateful to Michael Miller and New York State Bar Association President Hank Greenberg for their leadership on this vital program, and to our bar leaders and members throughout the state for their ongoing generosity in response to the immense legal needs of New Yorkers resulting from the pandemic.”

NYSBA will announce more details next week about the program but lawyers interested in volunteering can click here to register now.

Influx of Estate Cases Expected

Court officials also announced that in anticipation of a surge of COVID-19-related estate cases throughout New York City and across the state, these matters are being designated as essential.

Effective Monday, May 18, new uncontested estate cases involving individuals who passed away from coronavirus-related conditions may be filed in Surrogate’s Court.

“Tragically, New York State has been overwhelmed by coronavirus-related fatalities,” said DiFiore. “By leveraging all resources, I have confidence that our Surrogate’s Courts are fully-prepared for the surge of cases involving individuals who passed away due to COVID-related causes, ensuring these matters are handled with special care and resolved as efficiently as possible.”

DiFiore said the court system’s Surrogate’s Court pro bono collaboration with NYSBA would complement these efforts.

Upstate Judges & Staff Gradually Return

In regions that have met Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s phase one reopening safety benchmarks, judges and staff will begin returning to courthouses in at least 30 counties beginning Monday, May 18.

To date, the North Country, Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Central New York, and Mohawk Valley have met the phase one reopening requirements.

New cases in these counties may also be filed electronically.

Courthouse areas that will be used in this first phase include judges’ chambers, clerks’ offices and back offices. Social distancing and other steps restricting courthouse traffic will be enforced to protect the health and safety of judges and staff, attorneys, litigants and members of the public. Officials said the plans in these jurisdictions will serve as a template for the return of judges and staff to courthouses in other counties of the state.

City Clerks Resume Limited Processing

The state court system issued a statement today noting that the five county clerks of the City of New York will transition to a resumption of limited processing-only services in preparation for a yet to be determined recommencement of partial or full clerk of the county operations.

The initial phase will entail the logging, prepping, and sequential queuing of all documents received since the March 20 closing of normal operations relating only to clerk of the county duties and functions. Upon completion of these efforts, which will vary in scope and time from county to county, the process of sequential docketing and filing will recommence at a pace dictated by limited staffing levels and mandates consistent with executive and administrative orders.

The physical offices remain closed to the public and all submissions should continue to be made by mail until further notice.

COVID-19 Webinars

Friday, May 15 – Sick and Safe Leave in New York State: Moving Beyond COVID-19. A discussion of the new state sick leave law, which will provide sick and safe leave to all employees in New York State for reasons that are not limited to COVID-19.

Friday, May 15 – Making Legal Research Profitable and Effective for Your Firm During COVID-19. Learn how sole practitioners and small firms can increase the profitability, accuracy and speed of legal research by taking advantage of new AI technologies.

Monday, May 18 – Reopening Your Law Office: Key Considerations for Small Firms. This program will outline key steps for law firms to take to foster a safe return to an office.

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 we have insight on negotiating contracts in the era of COVID-19. And in case you missed it yesterday, NYSBA has developed a model reopening plan that will help law firms get back to work as quickly as possible while protecting employees and clients alike.

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