ARE THE COURTS CONTINUING TO FUNCTION?

Yes, but in a drastically reduced capacity in order to continue the social distancing efforts that are necessary to stem the spread of COVID-19.  New York courts are beginning to resume jury service.  However, individuals must reschedule their service if any of the following applies:

  • You have flu-like symptoms
  • You have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in the past 30 days
  • You have been directed to quarantine by either an employer, medical authority, or your local/state Health Department; or
  • You have had close contact (including caregiving) with anyone having been diagnosed with COVID-19 within the past 30 days.

If any of these apply to you, please do NOT appear for jury service.  You should instead email your local commissioner of jurors to reschedule your service.  You can find contact information for your local commissioner of jurors at www.nyjuror.gov.

If you need a notary, those services can now be provided through video conferencing.  Banks and post offices also provide notary services.  If a new action needs to be filed, please note that the statute of limitations for civil, criminal, surrogates and family court actions is currently tolled until at least August 5, 2020.  The “look back” window for filing claims under the Child Victims Act has also been extended to January 14, 2021.

Courts across New York are accepting filings of new actions by e-filing and mail filing only, subject to the moratoriums on certain actions, such as eviction and mortgage foreclosure proceedings.  In New York City Housing Court only, parties in eviction matters that were pending at the time of the eviction moratorium in March may request settlement conferences so long as all parties to the action are represented by counsel.  All other pending eviction matters are stayed until June 20th, and evictions for non-payment due to a COVID-related financial hardship are stayed until August 20th.

Beginning July 13, 2020, courts will begin to summon jurors for grand jury proceedings outside of New York City.  New York City grand jurors will begin to be summoned on August 10th, 2020.  All court personnel and visitors will be required to wear masks when entering any court facility.  Those who have COVID-19, have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19, have been ordered to self-quarantine or isolate by a medical professional, or who are experiencing any flu-like symptoms (fever of 100.4 or higher, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath) will not be permitted to enter.  State Courts in the New York City area are moving into the second phase of court opening.  This includes the following changes:

  • Essential family matters will be conducted in-person and heard by the assigned judge.
  • Criminal, juvenile delinquency and mental hygiene law proceedings pertaining to a hospitalized adult will be held virtually and heard by the assigned judge.
  • Non-essential matters will continue to be held virtually and heard by the assigned judge.
  • Mediation/alternate dispute resolution will be conducted virtually.

New York courts in the 3rd and 9th judicial districts (White Plains and the surrounding areas, and the Capital region) are in Phase 3 of court re-opening.  These courts will be allowed to conduct the following types of matters in person:

  • Child support proceedings
  • Selected plea and sentencing proceedings for defendants at liberty
  • Preliminary hearings in criminal cases for defendants being held in jail on felony complaints
  • Arraignments of defendants issued desk appearance tickets
  • A limited number of bench trials in civil matters
  • Essential Family Court matters will continue to be heard in-person.

 

As of July 1, 2020, courts in the 5th Judicial District (Syracuse and surrounding counties), 6th Judicial District (Binghamton and surrounding counties) and 7th Judicial District (Rochester and surrounding counties) will enter Phase 4 of court reopening.  Courts in the 4th Judicial District (Northern New York) and the 8th Judicial District (Buffalo and the surrounding counties) will enter Phase 4 on July 6th.  Courts in Phase 4 will handle all types of cases handled in the earlier phases in person, plus the following:

  • Child support proceedings
  • Child permanency hearings
  • Essential Family Court matters
  • Plea and sentencing proceedings for defendants at liberty
  • Preliminary hearings in criminal cases for defendants being held in jail on felony complaints
  • Superior civil court appearances where at least one party is self-represented
  • Arraignments of defendants issued desk appearance tickets
  • A limited number of bench trials in civil and criminal matters
  • Small claims filed prior to April 1, 2020
  • Grand jury proceedings will commence on July 13, 2020

Additionally, courts in Erie County (which will enter Phase 4 on July 6th) are allowing the following in-person hearings:

  • Bench trials of all case types (excluding incarcerated individuals).
  • Family Court Act Article 10 evidentiary hearings
  • Child Support proceedings filed prior to April 1, 2020
  • Permanency hearings
  • Criminal preliminary hearings and criminal pre-trial evidentiary hearings for out of custody defendants (with careful planning and controls to limit transports and courthouse traffic)
  • Pleas and sentences for defendants at liberty that do not involve a sentence of incarceration
  • Arraignments of defendants accused of a violation of any provision of Article 31 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL 1190 et seq.)
  • Arraignments of defendants whose Appearance Tickets were filed prior to April 1, 2020
  • Treatment court and judicial diversion appearances where the assigned judge determines that an appearance in an acute case is necessary to protect the health and safety of a defendant.
  • Other evidentiary hearings not noted in this list shall be presumptively virtual with the consent of the parties where legally permissible and logistically possible.

Importantly, courts in all phases of reopening are requiring temperature checks and verbal screenings for all individuals entering the buildings, including court staff, attorneys, and all other visitors.  Individuals will receive these screenings before going through security, or before entering the building for those with court passes or attorney passes.  In addition to the temperature checks, individuals will be asked if they or a close contact has experienced flu-like symptoms, been advised to quarantine or isolate, been diagnosed with COVID, or traveled to a state subject to New York’s COVID travel advisory within the past 14 days.  Individuals whose temperature is above 100 degrees or who answer yes to any of the screening questions will be asked to leave the building immediately.  The court system will keep a record of all people who respond “yes” to any of the screening questions.

All deadlines contained in court local rules or scheduling orders have been extended for at least 90 days unless the parties specifically agree otherwise.  Courts are not granting any default judgments at this time.  Importantly, all temporary orders of protection in any civil or criminal matters that were set to expire (or had court appearance dates to convert them to permanent orders of protection) on or before March 19th, 2020 are now automatically extended until the date on which they have been re-calendared by the judge, unless they are terminated previously by separate judicial order.

Courts across New York State are conducting virtual appearances for essential cases in order to support social distancing efforts.  The courts are using Skype for Business to accomplish this.  You do not need a Skype for Business account in order to participate.  For appearances that will be conducted virtually, the judge’s chambers will send a link to all attorneys and non-represented litigants via email that they can use to enter the Skype for Business appearance.  Parties will need broadband internet and a webcam with microphone to use this service.  Keep in mind that many computers sold recently, particularly laptops, already have webcams and microphones built in.

The New York State Bar Association is providing pro bono (free) representation for executors/administrators of estates of individuals who passed away due to COVID-19.  These free attorneys will assist in small estate matters only (assets of $50,000 or less).  For more information on this program, please visit https://nysba.org/surrogatescourt/.

Even with the court restrictions, attorneys are continuing to practice remotely.  Attorneys can consult with clients by phone and video conference.  They can also draft documents that you might need.  Governor Cuomo has issued executive orders allowing for remote notarizing of documents and remote witnessing in certain circumstances.