State Courthouse Staffing Levels Begin Increasing

By Christian Nolan

State Courthouse Staffing Levels Begin Increasing

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Good afternoon Members,

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said during her weekly coronavirus update today that the state court system’s plans to resume a limited number of civil and criminal jury trials on March 22 remainon target and, as a result, courthouse staffing levels are “modestly” increasing to support the necessary in-person administrative functions and increased foot traffic.

“The vast majority of court matters will continue to be handled virtually for the foreseeable future, but a limited number of in-person appearances may now be scheduled where doing so would serve important interests of access or court operations,” said DiFiore. “We believe that the incremental approach to expanding our in-person operations will enable us to responsibly provide more in-court services to lawyers and litigants while limiting and maintaining courthouse traffic at safe levels.”

DiFiore noted that 1,284 virtual bench trials and evidentiary and fact-finding hearings were commenced last week across the state, which was a new high. Overall last week, judges and staff virtually conferenced and heard just over 24,000 matters, settled or disposed of over 5,500 of those matters and issued over 2,340 written decisions on motions and other undecided matters.

“So, we are busy and functioning well under the circumstances,” said DiFiore.

Court Interpreters

DiFiore devoted a lengthy portion of her weekly address to the 287 court interpreters statewide who she described as “unsung heroes” during the pandemic.

She said these trained professionals, along with a roster of per-diem interpreters, have provided remote interpreting services in more than 21,000 court proceedings over the last year in dozens of languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Mandinka and American Sign Language.

Before the pandemic, court interpreters were limited to providing in-person services in a specific court or county but are now available to provide language access in any court across the state. Remote interpreting had been piloted before the pandemic, DiFiore explained, but transitioning to full-time virtual operations enabled interpreters, judges and court staff to become much more proficient and comfortable with remote interpreting, a development she said will improve access and efficiency well into the future.

“Translation services have been at a premium during the pandemic, both in communicating with our diverse court users about COVID-related issues and in promulgating legislatively mandated court forms, such as the Residential Hardship Declaration Eviction and Foreclosure Notice distributed to tens of thousands of tenants in our Housing Courts earlier this year,” said DiFiore. “The form was quickly translated into 19 different languages, with much of the work performed in-house by our skilled [Office of Language Access] professionals, and we are grateful to them for their efforts…”

Shout-Out to NYSBA

During the chief judge’s “State of Our Judiciary” address last week, DiFiore said New Yorkers “owe a debt of gratitude” for the generous pro bono service provided by thousands of lawyers and law firms. She then highlighted the work of NYSBA’s COVID-19 Pro Bono Recovery Task Force, which has recruited over 1,000 pro bono lawyers to assist New Yorkers with various pandemic-related legal problems, including in the Surrogate’s Courts to provide free legal assistance in probate matters to individuals and families who lost loved ones to COVID-19.

Seeking Volunteers

NYSBA recently announced its participation in the Commercial Eviction Prevention Partnership to provide mediation for landlords and commercial tenants facing eviction.

The initiative provides commercial tenants and small business landlords with pro bono legal services, and the information needed to reach a mutually agreeable lease renegotiation. Volunteer attorneys will be paired with clients affected by the pandemic shutdowns who want to settle commercial leasing issues using alternative dispute resolution.

The program is part of the New York Forward Small Business Lease Assistance Partnership – a public-private partnership between Empire State Development, the nonprofit Start Small Think Big, and the New York State Bar Association.

Attorneys interested in volunteering may click here to sign up. (NYSBA membership log-in required before accessing.)

COVID-19 Webinars

Tuesday, March 9 – Retirement Life Planning After Covid-19: Where Are You and Your Practice Heading (Part II).

Tuesday, March 16 – Taking and Handling Virtual Depositions.

Wednesday, March 24 – Arbitration and Mediation 2021: Best Practices Working Through and Beyond COVID-19.

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