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Court system expands virtual operations and opens up problem-solving courts

May 7, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State court system has conducted conferences or court proceedings in more than 25,000 cases through virtual and teleconference hearings over the last two months, and on Monday it took another big step toward returning to normalcy as it opened up even more virtual court proceedings.

It’s the first big expansion of court services since April 13, when, for the first time since the court closure in March, it began hearing non-essential matters.

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said that the court system has rolled out virtual operations in a “deliberate and methodical fashion” in order to ensure cases are being handled properly and fairly so that judges, lawyers and litigants understand the new normal and have access to justice.

“By any measure, this approach has been highly successful,” Chief Administrative Judge Marks said. “Since April 13, our trial judges have conducted conferences or other court proceedings in over 25,000 cases. Fully one-third of those cases have been settled or otherwise disposed.

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“We can all rightfully be proud of these achievements,” Marks continued. “And as we continue our successful transition to virtual court proceedings, we can again take further steps to increase access to justice and expand judicial services.”

On Monday, the court expanded its motion practice. New motions, responsive papers to previously filed motions and other applications, including post-judgement applications, may now be filed electronically in pending cases through the NYSCEF e-filing system or through a new electronic document delivery system when e-filing is unavailable.

The problem-solving courts, such as the Brooklyn Mental Health Court and the Brooklyn Treatment Court, may now conduct virtual court conferences with counsel, court staff and service providers.

Alternative dispute resolution is also back on the table for judges to refer matters to, including to neutrals on court-established panels, community dispute resolution centers and ADR-dedicated court staff.

Appeals may now be filed electronically, either through NYSCEF or the new document delivery system.

The court still is not taking on new cases. When that finally happens, many attorneys expect a rush to file, so Chief Administrative Judge Marks said that currently the focus is on judges getting rid of their backlogs so that they can operate most efficiently when that rush eventually occurs.

“If we can eliminate the current backlog of undecided matters, we will be in a far better position to absorb what promises to be a surge of new litigation once the court system returns to more normal operations,” Marks said.

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