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 resumed jury selection and certain jury trials in some areas in September 2020; however the courts have suspended in-person jury selection and in-person trials commencing on or after November 16th. Trials currently in progress will proceed to their conclusion, but no new trial juries or grand juries will be selected and no new in-person trials will begin. All new trials will be conducted remotely until further notice. Any individuals appearing for trials that have already began as of November 16, 2020 should not appear if any of the following apply:
- 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 you need a notary, those services can now be provided through video conferencing. Banks and post offices also provide notary services. The “look back” window for filing claims under the Child Victims Act has also been extended to August 14, 2021, and applicable statutes of limitations for filing other types of actions were tolled through November 3, 2020.
Courts across New York are accepting filings of new actions through all normal methods, but strongly prefer filing by mail or efiling. Eviction actions that were commenced after March 16, 2020 are automatically stayed after the filing of the action until further order of the court. Actions where both parties are represented by counsel may be eligible for virtual settlement conferences. Eviction actions that were commenced on or before March 16, 2020 may proceed, but will be subject to additional settlement conferences. Additionally, evictions are subject to the moratorium on evictions for nonpayment of rent set by the New York State Legislature and separately by the CDC. See the section entitled “What If I Have Trouble Paying My Bills?” for more information on these moratoriums.
Courts in New York have a phased plan for returning to in-person operations that is separate from NYS’ reopening plan. Courts’ return to in-person operations are based on the judicial district in which the court is located, not the NYS reopening region. To find out which judicial districts are in which phases, visit this link: https://www.nycourts.gov/limited-filings.shtml.
Importantly, courts in all phases of returning to in-person operations 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.
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, but are transitioning to MS Teams. You do not need a Skype for Business or MS Teams 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/MS Teams 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.