Three-Feet Physical Distancing in All NY Trial Courts Effective Today

By Brandon Vogel

Three-Feet Physical Distancing in All NY Trial Courts Effective Today

3.14.2022

By Brandon Vogel

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Effective today, the courts are moving to three-feet physical distancing for all judges, court staff and court users in all trial courts, and for all types of cases.

“Our decision to reduce physical distancing in all trial court facilities marks a major milestone in our return to full-scale court operations, enabling us to significantly increase the number of in-person jury trials, hearings and proceedings that can be scheduled in all courthouses,” said DiFiore.

Since the courts adopted three-feet distancing in criminal court a month ago, DiFiore said they have seen a substantial increase in the number of jury trials scheduled and the number of cases resolved by plea agreement.

“So, this is a most welcome change that will allow our judges to once again schedule a normal complement of in-person trials, hearings and proceedings in civil and family courts,” said DiFiore. “It’s a critical change that will speed the flow of cases through our dockets and help us clear out the pandemic-related backlogs that have built up in many of our courts.”

In anticipation, the courts have increased the number of jurors reporting to courthouses across the state, beginning today. To ensure their health and safety, and that of everyone entering our courthouses, the courts will continue to enforce all established public health protocols, including the use of face coverings in public courthouse areas, as well as encouraging judges to make smart use of the new virtual model, in order to limit unnecessary personal appearances and keep courthouse traffic down.

“After 24 challenging, stressful and exhausting months, as we finally enter into a new and better normal, I do think that, without in any way diminishing the awful impact of the pandemic, we can look back on the last two years with pride and satisfaction in the progress we have made to keep our courts up and running to meet the demand for our services,” said DiFiore. “And while it hasn’t always been perfect, I am so very proud of the way in which our court family has performed and honored our responsibilities to the public.”

This public health crisis has presented the courts with an opportunity to improve performance and services as it gains new skills and develop new tools to make the court system stronger and better, she added.

DiFiore updated listeners on its initiative to prioritize the adjudication of the large inventory of illegal gun possession cases in New York City, cases which make up fully one-third of the docket of the Supreme Court, Criminal Term, in New York City.

DiFiore updated listeners on the courts’ initiative to prioritize the adjudication of the large inventory of illegal gun possession cases in New York City, cases which make up one-third of the docket of the Supreme Court Criminal Term in New York City.

Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Deborah Kaplan, and Judge George Grasso, administrative judge for criminal matters in Queens Supreme Court, were asked to expand the multi-prong initiative that Judge Grasso had been overseeing to reduce the backlog of these pending cases in New York City.DiFiore reported that the number of top-count gun cases adjudicated in the city has been steadily increasing from week to week, and last week, for the first time, surpassed 100 weekly dispositions.

“We know, of course, that there is a lot more work to do to clear out the backlog of these serious cases, but we are pleased with the real progress that has been made to date and fully expect to achieve our objectives,” said DiFiore.

Court reform bill introduced in NYS Legislature
On March 3, Senate Judiciary Chair Brad Hoylman, and Assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine, announced the introduction of bills to merge New York’s confusing conglomeration of 11 different trial courts into a simplified structure consisting of three trial courts: a single statewide Supreme Court; a single statewide Municipal Court; and the Town and Village Justice Courts.

“We are encouraged and energized by their proposals, which fully capture the reforms we have called for, simplifying our trial court system in order to eliminate longstanding systemic barriers to equal justice, and empowering us to deliver more efficient, equitable and accessible justice services to all New Yorkers, including low-income litigants and underserved communities of color,” said DiFiore.

She looks forward to working with the New York State Legislature, including Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, as well as Gov. Hochul, the bar, the bench, and all stakeholder communities, in order to address everyone’s concerns and bring about this long-overdue reform for the benefit of the people of New York State.

Feinman scholarship

A year ago this month, Judge Paul Feinman passed away. Judge Feinman, the first openly LGBT person to sit on the New York Court of Appeals, was an extraordinary judge, a devoted public servant and a cherished friend and colleague, said DiFiore.

To honor Judge Feinman’s legacy, the International Association of LGBTQ+ Judges has created a scholarship in his name to be awarded annually to a law student with a demonstrated commitment to the LGBTQ+ community who will be working as a judicial intern, extern or clerk prior to the student’s final year of law school. Information on how to apply for the scholarship is available at: http://www.lgbtqjudges.org The deadline is April 1.

Ukraine

As the branch of government dedicated to justice and the rule of law, we join with the countless law- and justice-related organizations around the globe that that have strongly condemned the Russian Federation’s unlawful invasion of a sovereign state. And we stand with all those, including the New York State Bar Association, who have denounced the military aggression against Ukraine as a violation of international law,” said DiFiore.Let’s join together in keeping the people of Ukraine in our thoughts and prayers, and in support of a swift and peaceful restoration of the rule of law in their country.”

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