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Lawyer turned away at New York’s Court of Appeals for high temperature

September 15, 2020 Rob Abruzzese

An attorney who was headed to New York’s Court of Appeals earlier this month to make an oral argument was turned away at the door after they registered a temperature that exceeded the safety threshold, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said.

The occurrence was the first reported at the state’s highest court and Chief Judge DiFiore said that while it delayed proceedings, it is a sign the screening process is working and is a reminder of the importance of the safety protocols.

“While the last-minute cancellation of that argument and the need to reschedule the appeal was, of course, extremely disappointing and inconvenient for everyone involved, the more important point here is that the screening process worked exactly as it is intended to work, placing health and safety above all else,” Chief Judge DiFiore said.

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“What this incident at the Court of Appeals underscores is that we’re all going to have to live with, and become accustomed to, a certain amount of daily disruption and inconvenience as part of our ‘new normal,’” DiFiore continued. “And you know what? That’s OK. It’s OK because at the end of the day this is a small price to pay in order to safeguard the health and safety of every one of us as we press on in our responsibility to safely restore services for the benefit of all New Yorkers.”

The courts have been slowly expanding in-person activities in recent months to the point where it has resumed in-person jury trials in three counties — Suffolk, Schuyler and Erie.

This week in-person jury trials will be expanded to six additional counties — St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Washington, Onondaga, Broome and Westchester — and Suffolk County is starting two additional trials this week as well.

Chief Judge DiFiore is referring to these trials as “pilots” because the court system is monitoring them closely to see which protocols are most effective and which need to be upgraded.

According to the chief judge, the response rate from the general public to jury summonses is already at a higher rate in comparison to when they first started, and is at a comparable rate to the pre-COVID numbers.

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“It was very close to the turnout levels we would see in the days before COVID, demonstrating the clear desire of New Yorkers to perform their civic duty and their expectation that our courts and the justice system should, indeed, be functioning as normally as possible,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “And we thank all those New Yorkers, across the state, who have faithfully reported for service.”

Chief Judge DiFiore will be joined by the four Appellate Division presiding justices, including Hon. Alan Scheinkman from the Second Department, during next week’s 11th annual Public Hearing on Civil Legal Services in New York. The event will be telecast live on the court’s website and will examine the “access gap” people are facing due to the pandemic.

“As the economic consequences of COVID-19 have increased and intensified the serious legal problems facing low-income New Yorkers, we have intensified our efforts to ensure access to the courts for these individuals and their families,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “Judge Edwina Mendelson, our Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives, has kept us focused on the changing needs of unrepresented litigants during the pandemic, including the important priority of providing safe and appropriate courthouse space and other mechanisms to allow litigants who lack the technology needed to access our virtual courts to obtain the services they need.”


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