During her weekly coronavirus update today, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced that the state court system is planning to resume some in-person operations, including a limited number of jury trials in courthouses across the state, and that jury summonses are being mailed out in preparation for jury selection to begin March 22.
“Virtual courts have shown us a new way, and our judges and staff have done a great job of safely meeting the demand for our services in the midst of this historic pandemic, but we all know that technology can only go so far to supplant the human element that is essential to the delivery of justice services,” said DiFiore. “Face to face interaction is an indispensable component of our justice system, especially when it comes to deciding the guilt or innocence of individuals accused of crimes.”
DiFiore said the court system would incrementally expand in-person services and will be flexible and adaptable as it takes into account the conditions in each courthouse and region of the state. As such, some courts may be more expansive or restrictive in scheduling in-person appearances.
“In general, and for the foreseeable future, the default approach for us will continue to be virtual appearances in order to limit the number of people in our courthouses, but judges will now have the discretion to schedule a limited number of in-court matters where the judge determines that doing so would further important considerations of access to justice or court operations,” said DiFiore.
NYBench Launches Tomorrow
A pilot program called NYBench will launch tomorrow in the New York City Criminal Court in Queens County. NYBench is a web-based program that connects judges with the New York City Criminal Court’s Universal Case Management System in new ways that ensure instantaneous electronic access to RAP sheets, orders of protection and outstanding warrants as well as defendants’ files in other cases pending across the city and state.
DiFiore said NYBench will greatly improve the efficiency of case conferencing, plea negotiations and bail review in the criminal courts, and strengthen the quality of judicial dispositions, as judges will now have comprehensive information and a real-time 360-degree picture of each defendant appearing before them.
“The days of paper jackets and paper filings in our criminal courts are now numbered,” said DiFiore. “The future is digital, paperless and fast approaching.”
DiFiore anticipates that the pilot program will be expanded citywide later this spring.
Mental Health Court
The Third Judicial District has announced the launch of its first Albany Alternative and Treatment Court (AATC), a specialized part in Albany City Court targeting low-level offenders living with a mental illness.
Addressing both the treatment needs of defendants with mental illness and the public safety concerns of communities, these specialized courts link defendants with mental illness to long-term treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
The AATC will connect eligible individuals charged with nonviolent misdemeanors or non-criminal violations to court-supervised, community-based services and treatment designed to improve their quality of life and reduce recidivism. Treatment plans will be tailored to each participant’s needs. The court will offer a wide range of treatment and services, such as counseling, substance abuse treatment, medicine management and housing, education, vocational, job training and other services. Participation in the AATC is voluntary. Participants who fulfill the AATC’s treatment and other requirements may have their charges reduced or dismissed.
The AATC is a collaboration between the Third Judicial District, the Albany County Executive, Albany County Department of Mental Health, Albany County Department of Probation, Albany County District Attorney’s Office, Albany County Public Defender’s Office, Office of the Alternate Public Defender, the local defense bar and local service providers, among other partners. Additionally, the AATC has been working with the courts’ Office of Justice Initiatives’ Division of Policy and Planning throughout the planning and implementation process.
Albany City Court Judge John Reilly will preside over the new part. The Third Judicial District comprises the counties of Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan and Ulster. There are 31 mental health courts in operation across New York State and several more in various stages of planning.
Wednesday, March 3 – Avoiding the Funk: Strategies for Surviving Working From Home During COVID and Beyond.
Thursday, March 4 – Global Tax Policy in the Age of Covid-19–Common Issues, Varying Responses.
Friday, March 5 – The Post-Pandemic Law Office: What Does It Look Like?
Latest NYSBA.ORG News
In addition to coronavirus updates, we are adding other interesting new content to our website.
In an article published in the forthcoming March/April NYSBA Journal, NYSBA President Scott M. Karson discusses how our courts may be the last bastion of truth and civility, and that lawyers have a duty to keep them that way.
Also, on this week’s episode of the Miranda Warnings podcast, Albany Law School Professor Vincent Bonventre talks about the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court, the court’s three recent cases regarding COVID-19 gathering restrictions and an assessment of the court’s newest justice Amy Coney Barrett.