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Chief judge highlights technology in the courts as jury trials resume this month

September 2, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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The New York State court system is going to take a big step forward this month when it finally returns to in-person jury trials. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore still hasn’t revealed the full plan, but said that it will begin soon on a “pilot basis” all over the state.

When the first jury trial happens in Brooklyn, it will have been approximately six months since the last one was halted. Getting from there to here has required a lot of technological upgrades to the court system and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore highlighted some of these changes before she and the court make their next move.

“Let me say with absolute confidence that our technology teams in all of our courts and districts, under the expert direction of Christine Sisario and Sheng Guo, have done an absolutely phenomenal job of providing critical expertise and support across the state and developing and expanding our virtual courts,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “Their hard work, expertise and skill have enabled us to provide continuous service to litigants and lawyers throughout the pandemic, and certainly their work has set the stage for our future.”

In the 4th Judicial District, which makes up the northernmost part of New York, the courts built virtual kiosks near the entrance for self-represented litigants to participate in virtual court hearings and to receive live video conferencing assistance from court employees.

“These kiosks are providing access to justice for litigants who lack necessary computer equipment or internet access, particularly in the rural areas of our state where internet service is often unavailable,” Chief Judge DiFiore said.

They switched over the Help Centers in the 3rd Judicial District into virtual Help Centers to help self-represented litigants and expanded to the Surrogate’s and Matrimonial Courts in those counties.

The courts have also been providing training and education virtually every Wednesday through the Judicial Institute’s 2020 Judicial Seminars, which have been made available online with Hon. Juanita Bing Newton.

“Our Office of Justice Court Support, which provides technical support and training to New York’s 1,300 Town and Village Justice Courts, is preparing to deliver its upcoming ‘Taking the Bench Certification Training Program’ for newly elected and appointed Town and Village Justices — all in a virtual format,” said DiFiore. “This is an intensive, week-long curriculum and it will instruct our new Town and Village Justices on: conducting criminal arraignments; issuing orders of protection; the fundamentals of criminal, housing and other substantive areas of law; ethical obligations under the Code of Judicial Conduct, and financial reporting responsibilities.”

Chief Judge DiFiore also praised the court’s “Coronavirus Hotline” which provides litigants and members of the public with up-to-date information on the courts’ services being offered.

“Clearly, this has been a summer like no other, and as it quickly draws to a close I can’t help but marvel at the resourcefulness and resilience of our judges and staff,” said Chief Judge DiFiore. “They have been upbeat, creative and inventive in leveraging technology to keep us moving forward and ensuring access to justice in today’s new normal.”

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