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.
First Confirmed COVID-19 Case in US
The first confirmed case of the coronavirus in the United States. is reported in Washington State.
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.
State of Emergency Declared in NYS
Governor Andrew Cuomo declares a state of emergency in New York State, issuing Executive Order 202.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Virtual Bar Admission Ceremonies Commence
The Appellate Division resumed admission processes, culminating with virtual admission ceremonies for eligible candidates.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Revised Procedure for Addressing Eviction Proceedings
Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks issued an administrative order that provided additional procedures for eviction proceedings.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
E-Filing Expands to Surrogate’s Court
On May 26, NYSCEF e-filing expanded to the Surrogate’s Court in all 62 counties.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
NYS Unified Court System Launches Statewide Landlord-Tenant Eviction Dashboard
The NYS Unified Court System launches an online Statewide Landlord-Tenant Eviction Dashboard, which includes eviction filing data from the NYC Civil Court and the City, District, and Town and Village Courts outside NYC from 2019 to the present. This online tool was developed in response to the high interest in eviction filing data from advocacy groups, the media, and others spurred by COVID-19 and the ensuing moratoriums on eviction filings.
UCS Mandatory Vaccination Program Begins
The Unified Court System’s mandatory vaccination program began for all judges and nonjudicial staff in which all judges and staff are required to submit proof of having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination. Those with valid medical conditions warranting exemptions or religious beliefs that prohibit them from receiving the vaccine are required to submit official exemption forms by the end of the day on September 27.
Albany County Supreme Court Permits UCS Vaccine Requirement
A number of court unions have brought lawsuits to challenge the Unified Court System’s vaccine requirement and prevent its implementation. On October 15, the Albany County Supreme Court, where the matters are heard, issued a decision denying the unions’ request for a preliminary injunction and permitting the vaccine requirement to be fully implemented.
May 5, 2022
Formation of the Pandemic Practices Working Group
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced the latest working group in the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, the Pandemic Practices Working Group. It is tasked with examining the courts’ response to COVID-19, considering the post-pandemic procedures, and determining which policies should be prepared if operations are interrupted due to a similar event in the future. NYS Supreme Court Justice Craig J. Doran will lead this group.
June 7, 2022
Virtual Juror Pilot Program Launches in New York County
Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks and New York County Clerk and Commissioner of Jurors Milton A. Tingling announced that a group of randomly selected New York County residents who meet the juror eligibility requirements will participate in a pilot program, appearing remotely for the Supreme Court, Civil Term jury orientation and selection. Online juror orientation and selection begins July 6, 2022 on Microsoft Teams.
June 16, 2022
Modification to COVID-19 Protocols
Protocols for mask-wearing by judges, court staff, and court users in the courthouse changed to reflect declining cases and changes in NYS’s indoor mask mandate.