‘Virtual court’ now in session across New York expands due to pandemic

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New York’s are continuing to adapt digitally to the new realities imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last week, the state’s Unified Court System launched “virtual court operations” focused on essential and emergency court proceedings. That came after the courts shifted criminal arraignments, bail applications, orders of protection and other essential civil, criminal and family matters to a virtual environment.

On Monday, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced that the virtual courts will now include matters such as pending tort, asbestos, commercial, matrimonial, trusts and estates, felony, family and other cases. This represents the bulk of all court cases heard in New York state.

DiFiore said the transition came after two weeks of upgrades to develop “a virtual framework for handling all essential and emergency matters.”

“Building on this framework, we can now begin to focus on the rest of our caseload, enabling judges and non-judicial employees across the state, who are anxious to get back to work and do their part, to be active and serve the public in this time of great need,” DiFiore said.

As of Monday, Marks explained, judges were able to remotely schedule and conduct conferences and hearings focused on discovery disputes and other outstanding issues in pending civil and criminal cases.

“These are preliminary — but significant — steps forward as we strive, in these challenging times, to carry on the vitally important business of the courts,” Marks said.

Court proceedings for any pending non-essential court matters are being heard virtually through video or phone conferencing. Administrative and court staff are assisting judges in using the various digital platforms to conduct the hearings and access records.

While the judges and attorneys are conferencing in remotely, a limited number of court clerks and officers are still reporting to designated courthouse locations for paperwork processing and security.

The Unified Court System maintains that all scheduled court proceedings are open to the public, though court security personnel will monitor and limit access to maintain social distancing.

For more information, visit nycourts.gov.