The New York’s Court System recently announced that it will begin taking actions to reopen its courts for pending nonessential cases effective April 13, 2020. Lawrence Marks, the state’s Chief Administrative Judge, made the announcement in a memorandum addressed to trial court judges and justices.
The state court system ceased all of its non-essential services on March 20 by Administrative Order 78/20, in an effort to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The New York court’s decision followed the actions of other institutions to lessen in-person interactions that can spread the coronavirus.
The state has nearly 9,400 deaths as of Sunday evening.
The memorandum said that essential proceedings across the state were being handled virtually, with judges, attorneys, and most nonjudicial staff participating remotely. There are only a minimum of staff assigned to courthouse locations.
“This has been a truly remarkable achievement,” Judge Marks wrote, “and the court system’s highly-skilled technology staff deserve enormous credit for setting this up, particularly in such a short time frame.”
The memorandum announced that the ban on filing new nonessential matters will continue; however, the system will now allow remote access for pending nonessential cases. The judge said this includes tort (including medical practice and asbestos), commercial, matrimonial, trusts and estates, felony and other categories of cases. These cases make up “the vast bulk of our trial court caseloads,” the memo explained.
“This means that judges should review their case inventories to identify cases in which court conferences can be helpful in advancing the progress of the case, including achieving a resolution of the case,” according to Marks’ memo.
Conferences also can be scheduled by judges at the request of lawyers, and judges can be available to address discovery disputes and other issues. These conferences would need to be held remotely, either by phone or via Skype.
The memorandum applies to both criminal and civil cases. However, a court spokesperson explained that there will be no new jury trials. It remains unclear when new voir dire or new jury trials would be permitted, he said.
New York state, like most others, has issued orders requiring all nonessential employees to stay home and restrictions that sharply restrict large gatherings.
“Other steps will be taken in the weeks ahead to further increase access to justice in non-essential matters,” Marks said in the memo. “And you will be hearing more from us as that planning proceeds.”
The memo can be found here.
Governor Cuomo also announced a new partnership with the New York State Court System to create a pro bono system of volunteer attorneys who will provide free legal assistance to assist individuals and businesses who are struggling as a result of the pandemic. These lawyers will start to receive training and start offering assistance in the coming week.