Three-Foot Physical Distancing in Grand Jury Trials Starts Today
Effective today, the courts are implementing three-foot physical distancing for participants in criminal grand jury trials statewide, freeing up additional courtroom space for criminal jury trials.
“Experience has shown that as we schedule more trials and resolve more cases by plea agreement our dockets begin to flow and the backlogs that have built up over the course of the pandemic begin to clear away,” said DiFiore.
In anticipation that the COVID metrics will continue to improve, the courts are “laser focused” on planning for the next step in returning to full court operations and easing the physical distancing protocols in Family and Civil courts. Administrative Judges have submitted detailed plans for putting the reduced distancing guideline in effect in all courthouses, including plans to safely summon and deploy more jurors and increase the percentage of scheduled in-court appearances.
Over the last two weeks, the number of judges and court staff testing positive for COVID on a daily basis has dropped down to the single digits; there were zero reported positives across the entire court system on Feb. 18.
DiFiore was adamant that court leaders will not let their guard down when it comes to COVID-19. Courts will continue to enforce the public health protocols, including the use of masks in public courthouse areas. Judges are encouraged to use their discretion and make smart use of new virtual models to safely complement in-person productivity by limiting unnecessary personal appearances and keeping courthouse traffic down.
“While the pandemic has brought a great deal of worry and disruption to our personal and professional lives, one of the silver linings has been the many opportunities we have been presented to innovate and improve our services,” said DiFiore.
A prime example is the new “WebSurrogate” Program, which is being launched today in Surrogate’s Courts in 47 counties across the state. It is a free 24/7 online search tool that allows lawyers, litigants and members of the public to search for Surrogate’s Court files and retrieve and view records and documents, including wills, court orders and decisions.
In-person access to Surrogate’s Court files and records was significantly limited when COVID-19 made it necessary to restrict foot traffic in courthouses in order to slow the spread of the virus. In response, the judges and staff in Surrogate’s Courts immediately began working with the Division of Technology to make important records available online. The result of their effort is now available at https://websurrogates.nycourts.gov and it is a “game changer” for the many thousands of litigants, lawyers and members of the public who no longer have to travel to Surrogate’s Courts to physically access court files and records during business hours, said DiFiore.
Court personnel are working hard to bring the program’s convenience and benefits to all 62 counties and expand the number of records and documents searchable online.
DiFiore congratulated Judge Richard Rivera, whom she appointed last week to serve as the co-chair of the Franklin H. Williams Judicial Commission. He serves as the supervising judge of the Family Courts in the Third Judicial District, and as supervising judge of the District’s Domestic Violence and Mentor Courts. Judge Rivera was elected to the Albany County Family Court in 2014, becoming the first Latino elected to the bench in the Third Judicial District, and the first person of color elected to a countywide judgeship in Albany County.
Judge Rivera has been a committed and active member of the Williams Commission, and a dedicated mentor and role model for young people of color in his community, said DiFiore.
He will work closely with the commission’s co-chair, Justice Troy K. Webber of the Appellate Division, First Department, as they lead and guide the commission’s members in educating decision makers on issues affecting employees and litigants of color in the New York State Courts.
Judge Rivera is succeeding Judge Shirley Troutman, the newest member of the Court of Appeals.
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