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COVID 19 Alert: Latest Developments Affecting the Courts, The Justice System, and O’Brien & Associates Law Firm Operations

November 17, 2020

On Monday, November 16, 2020, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore of the NY State Unified Court System announced new COVID-19 guidelines that apply across New York State.  Judge DiFiore stated that the new steps being taken are “in response to the increasing COVID positivity rate, the growing number of communities experiencing COVID-19 clusters, the advice of our epidemiologist who has reviewed our relevant data, and the Governor’s latest directive significantly restricting in-person gatherings in commercial and residential settings.” The highlights of these new guidelines are reported below:

  1. Effective Monday, November 16, 2020, new jury trials are temporarily postponed
  2. Summoning of new trial jurors is temporarily postponed
  3. Jury trials and bench trials that are now in progress will be allowed to proceed to completion
  4. Newly commenced bench trials and hearings will proceed virtually, unless otherwise Authorized
  5. Sitting grand juries will continue operating for the time being
  6. Summoning of new prospective grand juries is temporarily postponed

A more complete summary of Judge DiFiore’s announcement  follows:

“Effective today, (November 16, 2020) and until further notice, we are temporarily postponing the scheduling of new jury trials, and temporarily postponing the summoning of new trial jurors. Jury trials and bench trials that are now in progress will be allowed to proceed to completion. Newly commenced bench trials and hearings will proceed virtually, unless otherwise authorized by our Deputy Chief Administrative Judges. Sitting grand juries will continue operating for the time being, because of their critical importance to the functioning of our criminal justice system, but the summoning of new prospective grand jurors is also being postponed at this time, until further notice….

‘With the COVID metrics clearly trending in a negative direction, and with Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays fast approaching, it would not be wise or prudent for us to continue scheduling jury trials and summoning large numbers of jurors, lawyers, litigants and witnesses into our courthouses at this time. Of course, we will continue to closely monitor the COVID metrics, we will make all necessary adjustments in response to the data, and we look forward to resuming grand jury and petit jury operations when the time is safe to do so again….

‘As we’ve said all along, our number one priority is the health and safety of our judges, our professional staff and the public we serve. We will not put anyone’s health and well-being at risk, and we will do everything in our power to help prevent the further spread and resurgence of COVID-19.”

Judge DiFiore also noted the complex challenges presented by the pandemic that have necessitated significant health and safety related measures in court houses throughout the state.  The New York court system has also been working diligently to expand and refine virtual courts in order to safely meet the immediate demand for court services during the public health crisis.  In this regard, Judge DiFiore announced the release of a new report by the “Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts” containing “Goals and Recommendations for New York State’s Online Court System.”  This report outlines three key principles to guide the just and efficient administration of our virtual courts: bridging the “digital divide;” using technology to increase efficiencies; and ensuring that online courts are implemented and operated in ways that do not exacerbate existing inequalities among court users.

More details concerning the Commission’s report, and the full text of Judge DiFiore’s announcements, are available at http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/November16-CJ-Message.pdf

Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions you have concerning how these new COVID-19 requirements may affect your circumstances, especially the status of your matrimonial action, and how O’Brien & Associates can assist you in these difficult times.

Joanne P. Monagan, Esq.
Principal Attorney/CEO
November 17, 2020