By Luiz Raible.
As New York State continues its reopening process, its court system, which is now again operational, has to follow new guidelines in order to promote safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since March, courts have been generally closed with a few exceptions due to health and safety concerns. No trials, pleas, grand juries, or new filings were conducted in person except for those deemed as essential which were conducted through video conference. In mid-May, six out of thirteen judicial districts began the process of reopening. The areas of the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Judicial District Courts were allowed to resume limited operation. These areas roughly include the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Mohawk Valley, and North Country. In early July, as the Hudson Valley reached phase four of reopening, courts in the Third and Ninth districts began conducting limited in-person appearances.
This month, the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, chaired by former New York State Bar Association President, Henry M. Greenberg, released a report outlining recommended plans for resuming in-person court proceedings. According to Greenberg, the commission’s goal is to “explore the enhanced use of technology and online platforms, and regulatory and structural innovations, to more effectively and efficiently adjudicate cases and improve the accessibility, affordability and quality of legal services for all New Yorkers.” The report covers the creation of customized court plans according to local conditions. It also includes checklists for courtroom access, juror pools, juror communication, and conduct of trial. While the report is suggestive, it provides courts with valuable advice on how to resume operations responsibly while taking into consideration the health and safety of all involved.