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COVID-19 Update: New York State Courts and The Rules for Virtual Signatures

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  • Posted on: Apr 8 2020

The New York State Court System

On April 7, 2020, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued a memorandum to all trial court justices and judges advising them that, starting on Monday, April 13, 2020, the courts will begin to open their doors, albeit remotely, “for non-essential pending cases” – i.e., “tort (including medical practice and asbestos), commercial, matrimonial, trusts and estates, and other categories of cases.” (Here.) To this end, judges are being asked to “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.”

Judges are encouraged to schedule conferences at the request of the attorneys and be available during normal court hours to address discovery disputes and other ad hoc concerns. Such conferences, said Chief Administrative Judge Marks, are to be “conducted remotely, by Skype or by telephone.”

Judges’ personal staff will be able to assist judges remotely, as needed. 

Courts that have high-volume calendar parts, such as compliance and trial assignment parts (primarily Supreme Court in New York City and the large downstate suburban counties) are to review their existing calendars and identify cases that can be assigned to judges to conduct remote conferences. “[T]he goal,” said Chief Administrative Marks, “is for judges to help advance the progress of the cases and facilitate their resolution.” 

Additionally, judges are being asked “to decide fully submitted motions” and “resolve … other matters in their case inventories.” 

Remote Witnessing

On April 7, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a new executive order (here) that addresses, among other things, remote witnessing. [Ed. Note: This Blog previously wrote about the previous executive order on the matter, here.] The order provides clarification regarding the requirements needed to conduct remote signings of documents, such as deeds, wills, powers of attorney forms and healthcare proxies.

Under the order, the act of remote witnessing (i.e., using audio-video technology) is permissible provided the following conditions are met:

  • The person requesting that their signature be witnessed, if not personally known to the witness(es), must present valid photo ID to the witness(es) during the video conference, not merely transmit it prior to or after;
  • The video conference must allow for direct interaction between the person and the witness(es), and the supervising attorney, if applicable (e.g. no pre-recorded videos of the person signing);
  • The witnesses must receive a legible copy of the signature page(s), which may be transmitted via fax or electronic means, on the same date that the pages are signed by the person;
  • The witness(es) may sign the transmitted copy of the signature page(s) and transmit the same back to the person; and
  • The witness(es) may repeat the witnessing of the original signature page(s) as of the date of execution provided the witness(es) receive such original signature pages together with the electronically witnessed copies within thirty days after the date of execution. 
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