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Brooklyn Supreme Criminal expands operations to include non-essential matters

April 16, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, began what it is calling Phase 2 of its plan to operate remotely when it began hearing certain non-essential matters on Monday.

For nearly a month it had worked to streamline the process of holding remote arraignments and other emergency hearings. On Monday it expanded its operations to include virtual pleas that may or may not result in the defendant’s release, sentences to state prison time, new filings of violations of parole, motion practice, judicial subpoenas and various types of warrant applications.

To implement the next portion of the plan, the court implemented a two-tiered system for initiating Skype conferences.

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The first way is attorney-initiated, which follows the model that was implemented for essential applications where the court has a designated email account for assistant district attorneys and the defense bar to submit requests for conferences.

The second way is court-initiated. Judges will review their own inventories to identify cases with potential for resolution and to schedule a conference with the defense and prosecution. In parts with large inventories, bulk conferences where multiple cases will be discussed are possible.

The court is also using this as an opportunity to expand a “scanning initiative for remote document access” that it started in 2018.

Hon. Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term, issued guidance this week on his court’s expansion of its virtual hearings. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

“For years we have conducted a Scanning Initiative in which certain categories of post-dispositional cases have been targeted to be digitized,” said Justice Matthew D’Emic, administrative judge of the court, in the court’s operational plan.

“Since 2018 we have utilized the ScanArchive, a records retention compliant document storage interface, to create a digital copy of specific file documents to protect them from loss or alteration. We intend to expand these programs to support Phase 2 of our plan by giving judges and partner agencies remote access to file documents.”

The borough’s “problem-solving courts,” the Brooklyn Mental Health Court and the Brooklyn Treatment Court, are both included in this expansion plan.

The Mental Health Court is able to accept referrals by email to schedule remote evaluations from Department of Correction facilities via Skype. After reports are given to the judge and attorneys involved, the court has the capacity to schedule virtual pleas and defendants can potentially be placed into shelters and provided cell phones so that case managers can more easily monitor their progress.

The treatment court cannot take on any new cases due to the population reduction efforts of residential programs. However, they are monitoring current participants’ progress virtually.

The Integrated Domestic Violence Part has also resumed operations by teleconferencing.

To do all of this, and to continue to be able to open more functions of the court in the future, the administrators have focused on training their workforce to work virtually. Part of the struggle is to train staff who are working from home and it is possible that they will require more employees to come into the physical courthouse on a short-term basis for training.

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