Daily Coronavirus Update: NYC Enters Phase Two of Courthouse Reopening, WNY and North Country Move to Phase Three

By Christian Nolan

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Good evening Members,

In her weekly briefing, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that New York City will enter the second phase of reopening in their courthouses on Wednesday, June 24.

She said that while there will be a measured increase in courthouse activity and staffing under phase two, the vast majority of non-essential matters will continue to be heard virtually.

Western New York (Eighth Judicial District) and the North Country (Fourth Judicial District), which have already begun Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s third phase of reopening, expanded the number of in-person matters in their state courthouses today.

Last week, the Fifth Judicial District (Syracuse and surrounding counties), Sixth Judicial District (Binghamton and surrounding counties) and Seventh Judicial District (Rochester and surrounding counties) began their third phase of a gradual return to in-person court operations.

The goal of phase three, officials said, is to increase foot traffic in the courthouse in a measured manner and extend the types of proceedings to be heard in-person to include:

  • Child support proceedings
  • Selected plea and sentencing proceedings for defendants at liberty
  • Preliminary hearings in criminal cases for defendants being held in jail on felony complaints
  • Arraignments of defendants issued desk appearance tickets
  • A limited number of bench trials in civil matters
  • Essential Family Court matters will continue to be heard in-person

“So, we are encouraged by the smooth and steady progress being made all across the state as we gradually restore in-person court operations, but we do recognize that there are many difficult challenges ahead of us, especially with regard to our high-volume courthouses in New York City and other populous areas of the state,” said DiFiore.

Pro Bono Rule Change

The court system’s Administrative Board, comprising DiFiore and the four presiding justices of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, has approved an amendment to New York Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(e), allowing legal services organizations and pro bono attorneys to provide financial assistance to low-income clients beyond the costs and expenses of litigation that had previously been permitted.

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, bar associations began to field calls from lawyers and nonprofit groups who wished to assist indigent clients to pay for food and other basic needs without facing disciplinary action. The amended rule relaxes the ban on providing financial assistance to clients, allowing lawyers to provide humanitarian assistance to their clients in dire need while keeping appropriate ethical safeguards in place.

The Administrative Board adopted the humanitarian exception with the following limitations: funds raised for any legal services organization for purposes of providing legal services will not be considered for humanitarian purposes and financial assistance may not include loans or any other form of support that causes the client to be financially beholden to the provider of assistance.

New Commission

In her weekly briefing today, DiFiore also thanked NYSBA’s Immediate Past President Hank Greenberg for leading the state court system’s new Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts.

She said the commission’s charge is two-fold: offering short-term recommendations to help our court system safely manage its ongoing return to in-person operations, and the formulation of our long-term blueprint for how we create the court system of tomorrow.

“In every crisis, there are opportunities. And this crisis has presented us with a unique opportunity to learn from the pandemic’s impact on court operations and embrace the latest technologies and innovations, in order that we may build a new, and better court system for the future, a court system well-equipped to meet the evolving justice needs of our fellow New Yorkers,” said DiFiore. “And I want to thank Hank Greenberg, and the members of the Commission, for taking on this important assignment.”

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, June 23 – The Virtual Court System: Challenges of Converting to Virtual Courtroom & the Pitfalls of Virtual Practice – NYSBA Trial Academy Virtual Conference.

Tuesday, June 23 – Managing Partner Conference Series: Managing Partner Response To COVID-19.

Tuesday, June 23 – Virtual Town Hall on Litigating in the Federal Courts During COVID-19.

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 President Scott M. Karson and Immediate Past President Hank Greenberg discuss firsthand how NYSBA pulled off our first virtual board meeting, passed groundbreaking reports and brought together a record number of delegates to participate.

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