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COVID-19 Update: New York Courts Preparing for A Surge in COVID Cases

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  • Posted on: Nov 4 2020

Anyone reading the newspapers or watching television knows that in the past few weeks the country has seen a surge in new coronavirus cases. As reported in the news media (e.g., here),  “[e]ighteen states have broken daily records for new cases in the past week and hospitalizations are up in 43 states.”  According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 9.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 231,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

Recognizing the risks associated with the rise in COVID-19 cases, Governor Cuomo established new rules for travelers entering the State. (Here.) Starting Wednesday, the State will require visitors from non-neighboring states to be tested for the virus before and after they arrive.

COVID-19 Preparation

With the foregoing in mind, the State’s judicial system is preparing for the possibility of a shutdown if the surge in COVID cases occurs in the State. This point was made clear by Chief Judge DiFiore in her weekly address: “Given the rising number of infections around the country, and the very real possibility of a ‘second wave’ here in New York, we are prepared to make immediate adjustments and to scale back or suspend jury trials and in-person proceedings on a moment’s notice.” 

Chief Judge DiFiore sought to reassure the public that “[w]e will continue to make smart, responsible, nimble decisions that protect everyone’s health and safety.” “Our number one priority,” said Chief Judge DiFiore, “is the health and safety of our court family; the jurors, the lawyers and litigants who enter our courts; and the public we serve.”

With “that overarching goal in mind”, Chief Judge DiFiore noted that the court system was “working around the clock to expand and enhance [its] virtual operations.” An “essential piece of [that] effort,” she explained, “is e-filing, which enables convenient access to our courts while avoiding the need for in-person filing of court papers.”

Chief Judge DiFiore noted that on October 20, 2020, Chief Administrative Judge Larry Marks issued an Administrative Order authorizing e-filing of civil cases in the Supreme Court in seven additional counties in upstate New York, as well as in the Broome County Surrogate’s Court. As a result, by November 18, 2020, e-filing “will be available in the Supreme Court in 60 of our 62 counties, and in Surrogate’s Court in 47 counties.” She further noted that the court system is “committed to extending e-filing to all of the remaining counties in the near future.”

Chief Judge DiFiore also highlighted the completion of the system’s expansion of e-filing “to all five boroughs of the New York City Housing Court” and the upcoming city-wide expansion of the system’s e-filing “program for actions transferred from the Supreme Court to the New York City Civil Court” when “Kings County comes on board next Monday, followed by Bronx and Richmond Counties on December 7th.”

Jury Trial Program

As noted above, during the past couple of weeks, the State began conducting jury trials in both criminal and civil court proceedings. On the civil side, for example, “after two weeks” there have been “8 cases [that] have been tried to verdict and 7 others [that] have been settled.” On the criminal side, Chief Judge DiFiore said that after one week of jury trials in New York City, “[f]our of the five scheduled trials are still in progress: two in New York County, and two in Kings County, one of which is now a bench trial after the defendant waived a trial by jury”. In Richmond County, although no trials have gone forward, she noted that “18 pleas have been taken on felony cases.”

This week, criminal jury trials are expected to start up in Queens and Bronx counties.

“I’m pleased to report that these trials have proceeded safely and smoothly to date,” said Chief Judge DiFiore. “We have received positive feedback regarding our preparation and safety protocols, including a note from one of the district attorneys commending the effectiveness of court operations and expressing the hope that there will be more trials in the coming weeks.” 

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