Dispensing Justice from a Distance: Journal of the NYS Courts During the 2020-2021 Pandemic

THE COURTS NEVER CLOSED

This timeline traces the Unified Court System’s major milestones during the course of the pandemic. It utilizes administrative orders, reports, and images to showcase the timing and nature of the different responses.

In chronological order, it follows the court system’s response from the first measures taken in early March 2020 to the present. It helps orient the sequence of events leading to virtual courts and the subsequent return to gradual in-person operations.

January, 2020

January 21

First Confirmed COVID-19 Case in US

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the United States. is reported in Washington State. 

March, 2020

March 1

First Confirmed COVID-19 Case in NYS

The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in New York State is reported in Manhattan. A woman who had traveled from Iran contracted the virus.

March 7

State of Emergency Declared in NYS

Governor Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency in New York State, issuing Executive Order 202.
 

March 11

Early Measures to Restrict Courthouse Entry

The first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in NYS, and immediately the courts began implementing entry restrictions into the courthouses for high-risk individuals.
 

March 16

Suspension of Jury Operations & Beginnings of Videoconferencing

Jury operations and high-traffic civil parts were suspended, and court business began transfer to videoconference or teleconference to reduce the number of people in the courthouses and protect the health and safety of court staff and the public.
 

March 16

Postponement of All Non-Essential Court Functions

All non-essential court functions were postponed, and all essential and emergency matters were consolidated into a limited number of courthouses.

March 19

Temporary Orders of Protection Extended

Automated 90-day extensions of all temporary orders of protection were issued. These extensions have continued in 90- or 60-day increments throughout the course of the pandemic. 

March 20

NYS on PAUSE Issued

Governor Andrew Cuomo issues Executive Order 202.6, closing all non-essential businesses and establishing eviction and foreclosure moratoriums effective the evening of March 20, 2020. This order would continue to be extended throughout the course of the pandemic. 

March 22

Non-Essential Filings No Longer Accepted

NYS Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks released an administrative order that called for no non-essential filings to be accepted by any county clerk until further notice.
 

March 25

Establishment of Virtual Courts in NYC

Virtual court parts in the high volume NYC Criminal Court began to hear essential and emergency matters. The NYC Family Court followed on March 26.

Chief Judge DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Marks observe one of the first virtual arraignments of the NYC Criminal Court.
Chief Judge DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Marks observe one of the first virtual arraignments of the NYC Criminal Court.

March 27

Rescheduling the NYS Bar Exam

The New York State Bar Examination was postponed to Fall, 2020, from its original July dates. Additional contingency plans have been discussed to support recent graduates in their transition to the practice of law.

March 30

Creation of Pro Bono Network

The NYS courts, in conjunction with the New York State Bar Association, developed a pro bono network to help people with legal matters arising during the pandemic.

March 31

Distance Learning Waiver for Law Students

NYS Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and the Court of Appeals annnounced a waiver on distance learning for current law school students to ensure that students receive credits for their distance coursework as a classroom-based course.

April, 2020

April 6

Courts Across the State Go Virtual

All essential and emergency matters across the state are heard virtually through videoconference. The model first developed in NYC Criminal and Family courts quickly expanded across the State.

NYC Criminal Court Virtual Arraignment
An arraignment in progress in the NYC Criminal Court.

April 7

Virtual Bar Admission Ceremonies Commence

The Appellate Division resumed admission processes, culminating with virtual admission ceremonies for eligible candidates.

April 13

Reintroduction of Non-Essential Matters

Non-essential matters were added into the calendar, allowing courts to conference, move forward, and settle thousands of pending cases every week. New filings for non-essential matters continue to not be accepted.
 

April 28

Chief Judge Approves Temporary Authorization

NYS Chef Judge Janet DiFiore approved a program designed to provide temporary authorization for qualified law graduates to engage in the limited practice of law, in which recent graduates will work under the supervision of a qualified attorney. It was previously announced that other bar admission waivers have been implemented for recent graduates.

May, 2020

May 4

Further Court Service Expansion

NYS Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks outlined additional expansions to court services, which included expanded motion practice, virtual conferences for problem-solving courts, referrals for alternative dispute resolution, and electronic filing for appeals.

 

May 14

NYC County Clerks Expand Operations

NYC County Clerks resume queuing, docketing, and filing of “Clerk of the County” documents for the first time since mid-March.

May 18

Surrogate’s Courts Prepare for COVID-Related Cases

NYS Surrogate’s Courts resumes the filing of new estate cases involving individuals who passed away from COVID-related conditions.
 

May 18

Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, Southern Tier Courthouses Reopen

Limited in-person court operations resume in 23 counties in the Finger Lakes, Mohawk Valley, and Southern Tier regions with stringent health and safety measures in place.

Kate Johnson, left and Yvonne Ortiz in a virtual arraignment Court as the Monroe County Hall of Justice reopens.

May 19

NYC Housing Judges Conduct Virtual Conferences in Pending Eviction Matters

NYC Housing judges begin scheduling and conducting virtual conferences in pending eviction matters in which both parties have counsel. This is to facilitate settlements and reduce pending caseloads arising from the pandemic.

May 20

North Country, Central NY Courthouses Reopen

Limited in-person court operations continue to expand in an additional 12 counties of the North Country and Central NY with stringent health and safety measures in place. 

May 21

Western NY Region Courthouses Reopen

Limited in-person court operations resume in an additional 5 counties in Western NY with stringent health and safety measures in place.

Courts across the State begin the reopening process, and judges begin the return to the courthouse.

May 25

Downstate Courts Accept New Filings

Downstate counties that have not met Governor Andrew Cuomo’s criteria for gradual reopening will now accept e-filing of new matters through NYSCEF, including nonessential matters.

May 26

Capital Region Courthouses Reopen

Limited in-person court operations resume in an additional eight counties in the Capital Region with stringent health and safety measures in place.

May 27

Mid Hudson Courthouses Reopen

Courthouses in the Mid Hudson region gradually reopened to resume limited in-person operations with stringent health and safety measures in place. Ulster and Sullivan counties reopened on May 28.

May 29

Long Island Courthouses Reopen

Nassau and Suffolk county courthouses gradually began the reopening process with limited in-person operations with stringent health and safety measures in place.

Court Officers wearing protective equipment reset magnetometers at the entrance to the Nassau County Court in Mineola, NY on Friday, May 29, 2020.

June, 2020

June 3

Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Judicial Districts Move to Phase 2 Operations

Courts in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Judicial Districts enter Phase 2 of in-person operations, which includes increased courthouse activity and staffing, and also includes increased safety practices for judges, court staff, and the public. Most non-essential matters will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 4

Distance Learning Waiver Extended

Chief Judge DiFiore signed an order to extend the distance learning waiver in place for law school students through the Fall 2020 term.

June 5

Fourth, Eighth Judicial Districts Moves to Phase 2 Operations

Courts in the Fourth and Eighth Judicial Districts enter Phase 2 of in-person operations, which includes increased courthouse activity and staffing, as well as increased safety practices for judges, court staff, and the public. Most non-essential matters will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 8

First, Second Departments Approve E-Filing for Retainer & Closing Statements in Contingency Fee Matters

The First and Second Departments of the Appellate Division approved an amendment to court rules (22 NYCRR 603.25 & 691.20) to require the electronic filing of retainer and closing statements with the Office of Court Administration in contingency fee matters. Paper filing will no longer be accepted.

June 10

New York City Courthouses Enter Phase 1

Courts in New York City and the boroughs begin to reopen in Phase 1 with limited in-person operations.

June 11

Third, Ninth Judicial Districts Enter Phase 2

Courts in the Third and Ninth Judicial Districts enter Phase 2 of in-person operations, including increased courthouse activity and staffing as well as increased safety practices for judges, court staff, and the public. Most non-essential matters will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 12

Tenth Judicial District Enters Phase 2

Courts in Nassau and Suffolk counties enter Phase 2 of in-person operations, including increased courthouse activity and staffing, as well as increased safety practices for judges, court staff, and the public. Most non-essential matters will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 17

Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Judicial Districts Enter Phase 3

Courts in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Judicial Districts enter Phase 3 of in-person court operations. Phase 3 increases foot traffic and staffing in the courthouse in a measured manner and increases the types of proceedings heard in-person. Certain non-essential matters and proceedings will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 17

Chief Judge Announces Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts

Chief Judge DiFiore announced a new commission charged with examining the enhanced use of technology and online platforms and making recommendations to improve the delivery and quality of justice services, facilitate access to justice, and better equip the court system to keep pace with society’s rapidly evolving changes.

June 19

Fourth, Eighth Judicial Districts Enter Phase 3

Courts in the Fourth and Eighth Judicial Districts enter Phase 3 of in person court operations. Phase 3 increases foot traffic and staffing in the courthouse in a measured manner and increases the types of proceedings heard in-person. Certain non-essential matters and proceedings will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 20

Updated Procedures for Eviction Proceedings Issued

Chief Administrative Judge Marks issued a memorandum detailing updating procedures for addressing residential and commercial eviction proceedings, including additional documentation in the form of attorney affirmation or petitioner’s affidavit indicating current state and federal restrictions and qualifications have been reviewed and the proceeding is in good faith consistent with the restrictions and qualifications.

June 24

New York City Courthouses Enter Phase 2

Courts in New York City and the boroughs enter Phase 2 of in-person operations, which includes increased courthouse activity and staffing, and also includes increased safety practices for judges, court staff, and the public. Most non-essential matters will continue to be conducted virtually.

Retrofitting, in the form of Plexiglass dividers, is measured and installed in Queens Supreme Court.

June 24

Updated Procedures for Foreclosure Proceedings Issued

Chief Administrative Judge Marks issued a memorandum detailing updated procedures for addressing residential and commercial foreclosure proceedings, including additional documentation in the form of attorney affirmation or petitioner’s affidavit indicating current state and federal restrictions and qualifications have been reviewed and the proceeding is in good faith consistent with the restrictions and qualifications.

June 25

Third, Ninth Judicial Districts Enter Phase 3

Courts in the Third and Ninth Judicial Districts enter Phase 3 of in person court operations. Phase 3 increases foot traffic and staffing in the courthouse in a measured manner and increases the types of proceedings heard in-person. Certain non-essential matters and proceedings will continue to be conducted virtually.

June 26

Tenth Judicial District Enters Phase 3

Courts in the Tenth Judicial District enter Phase 3 of in person court operations. Phase 3 increases foot traffic and staffing in the courthouse in a measured manner and increases the types of proceedings heard in-person. Certain non-essential matters and proceedings will continue to be conducted virtually. With this addition, all courts outside NYC are in Phase 3.

July, 2020

July 1

Fifth, Sixth, Seventh Judicial Districts Enter Phase 4

Courts in the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Judicial Districts enter Phase 4. Phase 4 increases the types of proceedings that are heard in-person, though many matters will continue to be held virtually. Court appearances will be staggered to limit the number people in the courthouse. Non-judicial staffing will also increase to provide necessary administrative support to court functions and the public.

 

July 6

Fourth, Eighth Judicial Districts Enter Phase 4

Courts in the Fourth and Eighth Judicial Districts enter Phase 4. Phase 4 increases the types of proceedings that are heard in-person, though many matters will continue to be held virtually. Court appearances will be staggered to limit the number people in the courthouse. Non-judicial staffing will also increase to provide necessary administrative support to court functions and the public.

July 6

Enhanced Visitor Screenings to Enter Courthouses

On July 6, new health and safety measures took effect for all visitors (including parties, attorneys, witnesses, spectators, law enforcement officers, prisoners, vendors, and all other non-UCS personnel) to enter NYS courthouses. Court Officers began taking the temperature of all court users with a contactless thermometer and asking COVID-related questions prior to the magnetometer security screening.

Court Officers perform temperature screenings on all court users entering the courthouse.

 

July 7

Updated Guidance on Eviction and Foreclosure Proceedings

In response to Governor Cuomo’s Executive Order 202.48, the court system eliminated the attorney affirmation or petitioner’s affidavit requirement in residential and commercial eviction and foreclosure proceedings. All other aspects relating to new guidance on these proceedings remain in effect.
 

July 8

NYC Enters Phase 3

New York City courts and courts in the boroughs enter Phase 3 of in person court operations. Phase 3 increases foot traffic and staffing in the courthouse in a measured manner and increases the types of proceedings heard in-person. Certain non-essential matters and proceedings will continue to be conducted virtually.

July 9

Third, Ninth Judicial Districts Enter Phase 4

Courts in the Third and Ninth Judicial Districts enter Phase 4. Phase 4 increases the types of proceedings that are heard in-person, though many matters will continue to be held virtually. Court appearances will be staggered to limit the number people in the courthouse. Non-judicial staffing will also increase to provide necessary administrative support to court functions and the public.

July 10

Tenth Judicial District Enters Phase 4

Courts in the Tenth Judicial District enter Phase 4. Phase 4 increases the types of proceedings that are heard in-person, though many matters will continue to be held virtually. Court appearances will be staggered to limit the number people in the courthouse. Non-judicial staffing will also increase to provide necessary administrative support to court functions and the public.

July 13

Grand Jury Proceedings Commence Outside of NYC

Prospective jurors begin reporting for duty on July 13 in courts outside of NYC. New safety procedures are in place to protect jurors, and additional safety retrofitting has been installed in the courthouses.

Jurors return to the their service in courts outside NYC, and are sworn in at Rochester’s Hall of Justice.

July 16

September Bar Exam Cancelled

The Board of Law Examiners decided to cancel the September bar examination, after reconsideration of current conditions to protect the health and safety of all participants. A revised date for the in-person exam had not been set at the time of the cancellation. A working group has been assembled, chaired by Hon. Howard A. Levine, to evaluate the means of assessment and other possible metrics for bar admission.

July 22

Extension of Temporary Authorization for Law School Graduates

Chief Judge DiFiore approved a temporary authorization program for qualified law school graduates to engage in supervised practice of the law in limited capacities. The Court has since amdended its rules to formally implement the program, which is eligible to first time bar exam takers. Candidates may remain in the program through their admission to the bar as long as they pass the exam no later than 2021 and promptly seek admission following the release of the results.
 

July 23

Court Officer Graduation

A socially distanced ceremony took place honoring recent Academy graduates. In March, training was suspended, and only recently have smaller groups of recruits returned to finish training. This is the first of 6 squads to do so.

Court officers at their socially distanced graduation.

July 27

Revised Procedure for Addressing Residential & Commercial Foreclosure Proceedings

Chief Administrative Judge Marks released a new administrative order, effective July 27, which amends the temporary protocol for handling residential and commercial foreclosure proceedings. These revisions included a stay of commencement and enforcement of commercial foreclosure matters and procedures for status or settlement conferences.
 

July 28

Resumption of NYC’s First Jury Trial

July 28 marked the resumption of an intentional murder jury trial in Bronx Supreme Court, the first New York City jury trial since all trials were suspended in March. This jury was set prior to the shutdown. The courtroom was prepared for both in-person and virtual appearances by witnesses.

Twelve jurors and three alternates resume listening to testimony in the socially distanced courtroom.

August, 2020

August 1

July Cases More than Double Total Cases of Any Other Month

New cases of the coronavirus in the United States reach 1.9 million in July, more than doubling any other month during the pandemic. April was the next highest with approximately 880,000 cases reported. A similar trend would be repeated in November, with nearly 4 million cases reported.

August 5

Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts Issues First Report

In its first report, the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts outlined recommended plans and goals for restarting in-person court proceedings, including grand juries and trial juries. The report includes guidance on creating customized court plans that address local conditions and prioritize public health and safety.
 

August 10

Grand Jury Proceedings Commence in NYC

Prospective jurors begin reporting for duty on August 10 in courts in NYC and the boroughs. New safety procedures are in place to protect jurors, and additional safety retrofitting has been installed in the courthouses.

Jury rooms in NYC courthouses prepare for the return of potential jurors with enhanced health and safety measures, including social distancing.

August 13

Pre-Pandemic Eviction Matters Resume

Chief Administrative Judge Marks released Administrative Order 160/20 which amends the temporary protocol for handling eviction matters. It allows for evictions matters, both residential and commercial, that commenced before March 17, 2020 to resume when appropriate, as guided by Governor Cuomo’s Executive Orders. Eviction proceedings commencing on March 17 or after continue to remain suspended.
 

September, 2020

September 9

Jury Proceedings Resume Outside NYC

A measured pilot program to resume in-person jury trials commenced outside of NYC. Schulyer and Suffolk counties began jury selections for two civil and one criminal trials. This follows the resumption of empaneling Grand Juries across the state.

Court Officers supplied face masks and shields to potential jurors in Suffolk County.

September 21

Chief Judge Appoints Council of Business Leaders to Boost Access to Justice Efforts During the Pandemic

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced the establishment of the Business Council for Access to Justice, which will provide support to the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice. The Business Council will provide strategic advice, including: education the business sector on the importance of equal access to justice, fostering pro bono services by corporate counsel, and partnering with legal service providers on projects designed to close the access to justice gap in low income communities. 

September 21

Chief Judge’s 2020 Hearing on Civil Legal Services

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore conducted a statewide public hearing at the Court of Appeals to assess the extent and nature of unmet civil legal services throughout New York State. The 2020 hearing focused on the significance of accessible, publicly funded civil legal services in confronting the civil justice crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

September 29

New Online Mediation Tools to Facilitate Resolution of Civil Disputes

The Unified Court System’s Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) launched three online tools to encourage the use of mediation: a statewide mediator directory, a statewide mediator application, and an online post-mediation survey.  ADR enables parties to communicate and create solutions with mutually acceptable outcomes, proving to be meaningful, efficient, and cost-effective. These online tools are useful during the COVID-19 pandemic, as users are able to meet their needs without visiting the courthouse.

October, 2020

October 2

Innovative Remote Access Initiative Launched in Westchester County

The new Faith-Based Court Access (FCA) pilot program enables unrepresented litigants to virtually access Westchester County courts and provides free legal services from houses of worship. This program is specifically aimed to reach low-income Westchester County residents who may lack the necessary technology to appear in virtual courts. Pilot sites provide access to computers, video camera, microphones, scanners, and printers; access a private area to prepare documentation; access to a point person who assists litigants with the technology; and access to telephone and WiFi connections to communicate with legal service providers. Pilot sites include: Grace Baptist Church, Mount Hope A.M.E. Zion Church, San Andres Episcopal Church, Bethesda Baptist Church, Church of the Assumption (Catholic).

October 5-6

Administration of the Bar Exam Online

New York’s first bar examination in an online format was administered on October 5 and October 6, 2020. Originally scheduled for July in an in-person format, the continued concerns about public health necessitated the online format. 5,100 candidates took the exam, with a very small percentage of candidates experiencing technical issues.

October 12

Revised Procedure for Addressing Residential Eviction Proceedings

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks released Administrative Order 231.20, which indicated all residential eviction matters, without regard to the date of commencement, may resume statewide. He noted that proceedings are governed by suspension of time limits, set forth in many of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Orders.
 

October 22

Revised Procedure for Addressing Foreclosure Proceedings

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued Administrative Order 232.20 to amend the protocol for handling foreclosure proceedings. All foreclosure matters resume, with several caveats including: suspension of statutory time limits, possible scheduling delays to ensure the health and safety of court personnel and court users, and additional conference requirements.
 

October 26

Jury Trials Resume in New York City

Criminal jury trials commenced in New York, Kings, and Richmond Counties, with additional criminal trials to resume in Queens and the Bronx the following week. Civil jury trials also resumed in New York and Queens Counties, while they had originally resumed in the Bronx, Kings, and Richmond Counties the previous week. 

A court officer reaches around the plexiglass divider to pass documents to a judge. Plexiglass surrounds all public facing areas in the courtroom.
A court officer reaches around the plexiglass divider to pass documents to a judge. Plexiglass surrounds all public facing areas in the courtroom.

November, 2020

November 16

Revised Pandemic Jury Procedures in the Trial Courts

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued revisions to procedures currently in place in the trial courts. These revisions reflect the adverse trends in COVID-19 transmissions in the state and a commitment to protect the health and safety of all court users. Prospective trial jurors and grand jurors will not be summoned, though pending jury trials and grand juries will continue to conclusion.
 

November 16

Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts Issues Recommendations for Online Tools

The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, through its Online Courts Working Group, issued a report listing recommendations for implementing and advancing online tools to better enable the court system to deliver justice services during the pandemic and into the future. The recommendations including evaluating virtual proceedings to ensure the rights and needs of all parties and redesigning the court system’s website to become a centralized portal, among others.
 

November 17

Revised Procedure for Addressing Eviction Proceedings

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued an administrative order that provided additional procedures for eviction proceedings.
 

December, 2020

December 7

Reduction of In-Person Operations

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced that, due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases across the state, measures will be implemented to reduce in-court operations and limit the number of people in the courthouse. In-person staffing levels have been reduced, in-person matters are also reduced. Virtual appearances continue to be encouraged, with only criminal, family, and housing courts hearing essential and emergency matters in-person in small numbers.

December 11

The FDA Approves Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine for Emergency Use

The Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Emergency Use Authorization for Moderna’s vaccine by the FDA would follow one week later. The FDA would approve Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine for emergency use on February 27, 2021. 

December 17

Commission to Reimagine the Future of NY Courts Issues Additional Proposals to Enhance Court Operations and Access to Justice

The Commission’s Appellate Practice Working Group, chaired by Hon. Rolando T. Acosta, focused its study on enhancing the efficiency and cybersecurity of New York’s appellate courts by creating a robust, more uniform technological infrastructure and provided a variety of proposals for the court system to consider implementing.

The Working Group on Regulatory Innovation, co-chaired by Paul C. Saunders and Dean Michael A. Simons, explored reforms to improve the accessibility and quality of the court system’s justice services, and recommended expanded methods to support clients.
 

   

December 30

Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act

On December 28, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the COVID-19 Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2020. The Act provides immediate relief to respondents and defendants in residential eviction proceedings and foreclosure actions in New York State through a variety of measures.

In response to this, on December 30, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued memorandums acknowledging changes to eviction and foreclosure-related proceedings.
 

   

January, 2021

January 4

Virtual Child Permanency Mediation Program Launches in NYC

The virtual Child Permanency Mediation Program, which was originally piloted in Queens, has expanded citywide for select child permanency matters, in addition to custody, visitation, and guardianship matters. The neutrals working in this program are trained in family mediation techniques, including the use of virtual platforms, child welfare laws and regulations, domestic violence issues, the impact of trauma on children, and implicit bias and cultural sensitivity. Research has shown that mediated settlements in permanency cases generally produce better outcomes for families and children. 

January 11

Unindicted Felony Parts Established in NYC

To combat the challenges of growing unindicted felony complaints awaiting grand jury presentation in New York City, the District Attorneys’ Offices identified cases that in their judgment may be appropriate for disposition. These 2,300 cases will be conferenced in the Unindicted Felony Parts, and judges and staff calendared and heard almost 1,100 cases, reaching dispositions in 363 matters in the first week.

January 11

Vaccination Available for Court Officers, Professional Staff

New York State enters Phase 1b of its vaccine rollout, which includes Court Officers and court professional staff but excludes judges.  Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks urged state officials to expand these guidelines to include the judges in support of safely re-expanding court operations.

January 29

Online Dispute Resolution Pilot Program for Small Claims Cases in NYC Civil Court Launches

Funded by the State Justice Institute and AAA-ICDR Foundation, the new initiative is among the Court System’s statewide efforts to expand the use both of alternative dispute resolution and online technology to better meet the justice needs of New Yorkers amid the pandemic and beyond. The Manhattan pilot is designed to assist unrepresented parties in managing and resolving matters involving disputes related to the purchase or sale of goods or services, with a monetary limit up to $10,000

February, 2021

February 2

Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts Issues Two New Reports

Two of the Commission’s working groups, the Structural Innovations Working Group, chaired by Hon. Leslie E. Stein and Timothy C. Idoni, and the Technology Working Group, chaired by Mark A. Berman and Sharon M. Porcellio, issued reports recommending expanded use of e-filing and enhanced remote court operations beyond the pandemic.
 

   

February 11

Virtual Bench Trial Protocols & Procedures Released

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore asked Nassau County Administrative Judge Norman St. George to identify best practices from across the State and synthesize them into a manual to guide the bench and bar in conducting virtual bench trials and hearings during the pandemic and beyond. To prepare the manual, Judge St. George consulted with his colleagues, bar associations, District Attorneys, and public defenders.

These protocols and procedures inform participants of what to expect during a virtual trial and address key issues, including proper decorum; safeguarding the integrity of the proceedings; handling and presenting testimonial; documentary and physical evidence; and conducting sidebars.
   

March, 2021

March 2

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore Delivers the State of the Judiciary

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore delivered her fifth annual State of the Judiciary virtually at the Court of Appeals in Albany. She focused on the operational and fiscal challenges facing the Unified Court System during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the technological advancements and other positive innovations adopted by the courts during this public health crisis.

The Chief Judge thanked the Court System’s judges and professional staff, as well as its partners in the bar, for their unwavering commitment to serving the needs of the public and upholding the rule of law in the face of unprecedented challenges this past year.
 

   

   

March 15

NYS Unified Court System Releases Annual Report

The NYS Unified Court System’s 2020 Annual Report dives into the changes made to ensure access to justice during an unprecedented year. This includes the Court System’s response to the pandemic, with increased virtual court operations and e-filing, but also its response to Secretary Jeh Johnson’s report on Equal Justice in the Courts, the work of the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, and a breakdown of its fiscal year.
 

March 17

COVID-19 Vaccine Now Available to Judges

COVID-19 vaccine guidelines expanded to include all public facing essential government officials and employees, which includes Judges and Justices of the Unified Court System.

March 22

Limited Resumption of Jury Trials

As COVID-19 metrics improve and more people are receiving the vaccine, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced incremental expansion of in-person operations and re-start of a limited  number of civil and criminal jury trials. She noted that the court system will continue to prioritize and enforce social distancing, use of PPE, and strict cleaning to ensure the safety and security of everyone at the courthouse.

Jurors are sworn in for criminal trials in New York City.

 

April, 2021

April 5

Two New Reports from the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts

The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts released two reports, focusing on the ways in which emerging technologies can be applied to improve trial practice and the development of procedures to ensure evidentiary proceedings are conducted safely, effectively, and fairly. The first report was prepared by the Trials Working Group and offers proposed action steps. The second report was also prepared by the Trials Working Group and includes a best practices for remote evidentiary proceedings.
 

         

May, 2021

May 3

Court of Appeals, NY AG Host Law Day

The New York Court of Appeals and Attorney General of the State of New York host Law Day with a virtual ceremony. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Attorney General Letitia James, and New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson gave remarks on the 2021 theme of Advancing the Rule of Law Now.
 

         

May 7

Third Judicial District Launches New Initiative to Close Digital Divide

The Third Judicial District’s Community Court Access program aims to enable Albany-area residents who do not have a home computer or reliable internet access to participate in virtual court proceedings, e-file court documents, and connect remotely to court and free legal services from a secure site in their local neighborhood. Pilot sites include the City of Albany and Coeymans, with plans for expansion into Greene and Schoharie counties. Administrative Judge George Connolly leads this initiative, which is based on the faith-based access-to-justice initiative launched in the Ninth Judicial District in October, 2020.

May 24

In-Person Return for All Judges and Court Staff

The incremental return of judges and court staff to their assigned courthouses ends on May 24, when all judges and court staff report to work in-person.  The return allows for expanded in-court operations and services for lawyers and litigants, and an increase in the number and types of matters that can be heard again in-person, including jury trials. COVID-19 screenings continue to be in place, including face mask, social distancing, and strict cleaning standards to protect the health and safety of everyone in the courthouse.

Staff returns to Ontario County Court on May 24.

May 24

Pop-up Vaccination Sites at NYC Courthouses

The Unified Court System partnered with New York City to provide pop-up vaccination sites on May 24 and May 25. The sites are near courthouses in three boroughs: Queens (Borough Hall Plaza), Staten Island (26 Central Avenue), and the Bronx (Lou Gehrig Plaza). 

Pop-up vaccination site at Staten Island Criminal Court,

May 26

E-Filing Expands to Surrogate’s Court

On May 26, NYSCEF e-filing expanded to the Surrogate’s Court in all 62 counties. 

June, 2021

June 14

Unified Court System Issued Revised Mask Guidelines for Judges and Court Staff

On June 14, 2021, Office of Court Administrative Executive Director Nancy J. Barry issued a revised mask policy for judges and court staff. Following guidance from the CDC and NYS, the Unified Court System began relaxing mask and social distancing requirements for judges and personnel who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Enrollment in this program is optional, and involves providing documentation of vaccination and waring an issued program identification card. Participants will continue to wear their masks in public spaces.
 

June 24

State of Emergency Ends in NYS

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that NYS will end the state disaster emergency declared on March 7, 2020. This is due to the success of vaccination rates and declining hospitalizations and rates of positivity statewide. CDC guidance will continue to be followed, including masks for unvaccinated individuals and all people in certain public settings.
 

June 28

In-Person Arraignments Resume in Manhattan Criminal Court

In-person arraignments resume in the New York City Criminal Court in Manhattan. Kings County arraignments follow on July 6, with Bronx, Queens, and Richmond Counties resuming on July 12. The Unified Court System continues to work with the State Magistrates’ Association and criminal justice stakeholders on plans to resume in-person arraignments across the rest of the state. 

As in-person matters continue to increase, additional safety measures, including temperature checks and masks, will continue, along with the option for virtual arraignments. 

July, 2021

July 8

Fifth Judicial District Establishes Virtual Court Access Program

The Fifth Judicial District launches the Virtual Court Access Program, a partnership with faith-based community organizations, not-for-profits, county government, and legal service providers, to provide technology for Syracuse-area residents to participate in virtual court matters. This program is a part of the Unified Court System’s continuing commitment to bridge the digital divide. 

July 14

Vaccinated Courthouse Visitors Allowed to Remove Masks

As of July 14, fully vaccinated court visitors, who provide proof of their vaccination status, are allowed to enter and remain in courthouses without their masks. 

August, 2021

August 13

Changes to Mask Policy in Courthouses

Effective August 13, the Unified Court System changed its mask policy to require all vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals to resume wearing masks in public spaces in State courthouses. This includes judges, court staff, attorneys, court users, and all other visitors. This change in the mask policy reflects new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention relating to the Delta variant. 

September, 2021

September 7

New Program for Judges and Court Staff Who Are Not Enrolled in the UCS Mask Policy Program

Due to the Delta variant leading to increasing positive COVID-19 rates, the Unified Court System issued a new program of mandatory weekly COVID-19 tests for judges and court staff who have not yet enrolled in the court system’s mask policy program and submitted proof of their vaccinated status. Those judges and court staff who have submitted proof of their vaccination and enrolled in the mask policy program will be exempt from the testing program. 

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