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New York City courts will begin accepting new non-essential cases on some matters

May 26, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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Following a week where more than 30 upstate courts were reopened, but Brooklyn lawyers and judges expressed disbelief that the borough might reopen its own courts for months, the court system announced that New York City courts will begin accepting new non-essential matters in some instances using e-filing.

This doesn’t mean that the courts will be reopening anytime soon in the five boroughs, but it’s the first time since the middle of March that attorneys are allowed to make any movement at all on new cases that aren’t considered essential or emergencies.

“Consistent with the goal of expanding court activity while maintaining appropriate standards of public health and safety, we will be taking another important operational step commencing Monday, May 25,” Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks wrote in a memorandum.

“Beginning that day, e-filing through the NYSCEF system — including the filing of new non-essential matters — will be restored in those counties of the state that have not yet met the benchmarks required to participate in the governor’s regional reopening plan,” Marks said.

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Domenick Napoletano, past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association and treasurer of the NYS Bar Association, said that with this step, the courts will nearly have returned to normal. The next step will be to deem lawyers and process servers as essential workers. Photo: Rob Abruzzese/Brooklyn Eagle

Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced seven benchmarks for counties to reach before they can begin reopening. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Marks then announced that the court system would follow those guidelines and announced that courts in more than 30 counties would immediately reopen.

New York City has only met three of those seven benchmarks so it, and the surrounding downstate counties, had remained closed for non-essential matters.

While this technically means that the courts are back and open again for business, Domenick Napoletano, the treasurer of the NYS Bar Association, said that lawyers are still going to be limited in how much they can do as they have not been deemed essential workers, and neither have process servers.

“This means that you can file, you can buy an index number, file a summons of complaint, move for a preliminary conference and do that all virtually,” Napoletano said. “However, until Gov. Cuomo deems process servers as essential workers, you can file the complaint, but you can’t serve it. Filing is not serving.”

“Once that happens then it’s business as usual with exception with the physical appearance of the courthouse,” Napoletano continued. “Everything is being done virtually anyway.”

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