VIRTUALLY REOPENING THE CIVIL COURTHOUSE
If you must bring a lawsuit against a person, a business, or for some other legal relief, you need to go to court. The New York State legal system never completely closed although, from mid-March to mid-May, it did pause almost all activity. That has now changed.
It is now late May, 2020, and the court system is returning to life. Except for two types of cases, all civil litigation has resumed. As of May 25, 2020, lawyers throughout the Hudson Valley can file almost any type of lawsuit and other court papers. This includes Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan, Ulster and Westchester Counties. We are once again able to begin a new lawsuit, now by filing the necessary summons and complaint from our computers. Crucially, two types of cases – foreclosure and eviction matters – continue to be unavailable for filing at this time. Motions for default judgment are also still prohibited.
On May 28, 2020, the Administrative Judge in charge of the Courts in Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland and Westchester Counties addressed the Phase 1 Return to in-person operations. In the first phase of this expansion, judges, chambers staff, and some additional personnel will return to each courthouse to expand in-court operations in a manner consistent with current health protocols – wearing masks and gloves, continuing to implement social distancing, and taking other appropriate precautions. She went on to say: “In Phase 1, Judges and chambers staff have returned to the courthouses in the Supreme Courts, County Courts, Surrogate’s Courts, Family Courts and City Courts as of May 27, 2020 and these Courts will accept filings of new actions and proceedings with the exception of applications for landlord tenant evictions, mortgage foreclosures and default judgment motions. Clerical staff are present to handle new filings. The pre-existing virtual courtrooms and virtual chambers plans shall continue.”
The openness and direct contact for which the court system is justly proud has been addressed in the same way that so many of us are interacting in our new times….by the use of video conference calls. Virtual court proceedings — in which judges, other court personnel, counsel and parties attend audio-visual conferences through Skype for Business – have been implemented throughout the court system. This will allow new cases as well as those already in the pipeline to move along toward resolution. Whether the video conferencing feature will remain after the crisis eases is unknown although if it does, it has the potential to bring down litigation costs. Stay tuned.
The Chief Judge of the State, Hon. Janet DiFiore, has been very active. On May 26, 2020, she spoke of how the court system and courthouses have changed: “Many safety measures have been put in place, including: COVID-19 screening; the wearing of masks by all who enter our courthouses; social distancing protocols; availability of PPE; strict cleaning and sanitizing standards; and the installation of plexiglass partitions in strategic courthouse locations.”
This is not intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.
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