Daily Coronavirus Update: Statewide E-Filing of New Non-Essential Cases to Begin Next Week

By Christian Nolan

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Good evening Members,

New York State’s court system took a major step toward a new normal today.

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks sent a memo to all the state’s trial court justices and judges informing them that the statewide e-filing of new non-essential cases will begin next week. And the state court system announced that limited in-person court operations will resume in Western New York and the Capital Region.

“Consistent with the goal of expanding court activity while maintaining appropriate standards of public health and safety, we will be taking another important operational step commencing Monday, May 25,” wrote Marks. “Beginning that day, e-filing through the [New York State Electronic Filing System (NYSCEF)] system – including the filing of new non-essential matters – will be restored in those counties of the state that have not yet met the benchmarks required to participate in the governor’s regional reopening plan.”

Those counties include the five New York City counties, Nassau and Suffolk counties, and Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester counties.

The announcement was welcome news for the legal community, including NYSBA President Hank Greenberg.

“This is a tremendous milestone in the expansion of New York’s virtual courts and great news for litigators and the public,” said Greenberg. “It is a giant leap in our return to a new normal.”

Marks said the restoration of NYSCEF will be limited to cases in which represented parties file and serve all papers electronically. Unrepresented litigants may continue to file, serve, and be served papers through non-electronic means in those cases.

“This expanded use of NYSCEF will permit a significant broadening of civil litigation in a manner that continues to ensure the highest measure of health and safety to judges, court personnel and the public,” Marks wrote.

WNY, Capital Region to Resume Court Operations

The state court system announced today that limited in-person court operations will resume in 13 more counties that have met the governor’s established safety benchmarks for the first phase of regional reopening.

The return of judges and staff to courthouses will begin Thursday, May 21 in Western New York’s Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Niagara counties; followed by the Capital Region’s Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren and Washington counties on Tuesday, May 26.

In those counties, judges and their personal staffs, as well as designated court personnel, will be returning to their assigned courthouses and new case filings will be accepted electronically.

Earlier this week, courts in 35 other upstate counties spanning the state’s Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier and Central New York regions−which have all met the governor’s benchmarks−began a gradual return to in-person courthouse operations.

While still handling essential and emergency matters during the pandemic, courts in these 13 counties had limited their operations, consolidated court facilities, implemented and expanded virtual court models, and took a wide range of other measures to restrict courthouse traffic and contain the spread of COVID-19. With guidance from public health officials, plans to safely resume more normalized court operations have been ongoing.

Courthouse areas that will be used in this first phase include judges’ chambers, clerks’ offices, and back offices. Physical 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. Other precautions include:

  • Non-employee court visitors will be required to undergo COVID-19 screening before entering the courthouse.
  • Anyone entering the courthouse will be required to wear a mask.
  • All staff who interact with court visitors must wear a mask.
  • Courtroom and other areas will be carefully marked to ensure proper physical distancing.
  • Court facilities will be regularly sanitized.
  • Acrylic barriers, hand sanitizer dispensers and other safety features will be installed in courthouse areas as needed.

Officials said these plans will serve as a template for the future return of judges and staff to courthouses in additional counties of the state that have not yet reopened.

NYC Housing Court Eviction Matters

Marks has also announced that New York City Housing Court judges have begun scheduling and conducting virtual conferences in pending eviction matters in which both parties are represented by counsel.

The conferences are being scheduled to facilitate settlements and reduce pending caseloads as the court prepares for an influx of new eviction cases due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Serving the five boroughs with nearly 240,000 new filings each year, the New York City Housing Court is among the busiest courts in the country. While the court has remained open for business throughout the pandemic, cases heard in March were limited only to essential matters like illegal lockouts and emergency repairs.

Later in April, operations expanded to include non-essential matters such as having judges issue written decisions on motions that had previously been submitted to the court and in bench trials that had already been conducted prior to the pandemic.

This week, operations have expanded once again to include virtual conferences presided over by judges in an effort to reach settlements without the need for trial or additional litigation.

Any party represented by an attorney in a pending eviction case may now request a settlement conference. Hundreds of conferences have already been requested and are being scheduled throughout the five boroughs. Though consent from both parties is preferred, conferences will be scheduled at the request of any party who seeks one.

COVID-19 Webinars

Thursday, May 21 – Coronavirus and its Impact on the New York Bar Exam.

Wednesday, May 27 – Employment Law in the Age of COVID-19: Principles For Today and the Post-COVID World.

Wednesday, May 27 – Technology and Equipment Cybersecurity Concerns: Before and 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.

Many of us survived working from home and made a successful, if bumpy, adjustment to a new normal.  Now we are facing a new challenge in returning to the office. Click here to learn how to navigate the anxiety.

Additionally, today we have coverage from a recent NYSBA CLE where one of the nation’s top constitutional law scholars, Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law, spoke on the reopening of the economy and civil liberties during a pandemic.

Also, the Gold/Fox: Non-Billable podcast talks with the Hon. Albert Rosenblatt and NYSBA Past President Stephen Younger about the Historical Society of the New York Courts and the recent webinar “Lessons Learned From the 1918 Pandemic: Historical and Legal Framework of the Spanish Flu and How It Relates to Today’s Crisis.”

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