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New York courts are working with the CDC to create reopening guidelines

May 6, 2020 Rob Abruzzese and David Brand
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In her weekly public address to the court system, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore admitted that it’s hard to tell what exactly the future holds for the court system as the country slowly crawls out of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but added that administrators have been working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create reopening guidelines.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that New York will follow guidance from the CDC before opening sectors of the economy and society, measures that will first depend on at least 14 days of declining COVID-19 cases in the state.

DiFiore said the state court system will follow Cuomo’s lead.

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“As to the details of our plan, the honest answer is that we don’t know yet what those details will entail,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “What we do know is that our services are absolutely essential, and that as the economy restarts and businesses reopen, there will be a corresponding action by the courts.”

Chief Judge DiFiore explained that since so much is still unknown, the court is considering multiple reopening scenarios that include multiple timetables for a phased-in restart. While they do that, the court plans to continue its expansion of virtual court operations, which she called busy and productive.

“With each passing day, our judges and staff are conferencing more matters, settling more cases and making good progress toward our goal of clearing out our entire backlog of undecided motions,” DiFiore said.

The court is still greatly concerned with the future of Spring 2020 law school graduates, who may not be able to take the bar exam in a timely manner. It has temporarily allowed qualified graduates to engage in limited practice of law under the supervision of an experienced attorney in good standing. Hon. Michael Garcia, associate judge of the Court of Appeals, is overseeing a working group that is studying the issues and working with law schools and the four departments of the Appellate Division.

The biggest hurdle facing recent graduates is seating for the bar exam. First time test takers are being given priority as a result of limited seating capacity for the September bar exam. The court will continue to provide updates on the issue through the New York Board of Law Examiners website.


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