Updated: Jun 12
Although New York City's state court judges returned to their chambers on Wednesday, remote hearings may become the norm.
Administrative Judge Deborah A. Kaplan, who oversees civil matters in the state Supreme Court for New York County, told Law360 in an interview Wednesday that her judges have rendered 2,600 remote decisions on motions and settled 2,000 cases within the past month. Her division has used video-linked "virtual" hearings for a wide range of matters — including contract litigation in the commercial division and emergency hospital proceedings that forced unwilling patients from their beds.
The New York State Supreme Court's civil division in Manhattan is one of the busiest courts in the country, handling 35,000 cases at any given time, Judge Kaplan said. But there was little human evidence of the deluge of legal action the court was fielding, even as its doors reopened. The courts' first day back to in-person operations was largely quiet at the stately civil courthouse at 60 Centre Street. Just 124 visitors — eight attorneys and 116 other members of the public — walked the halls there Wednesday. The civil term saw nearly all of its 59 judges show up as well as its 77 staff members, Reo said, in addition to another 35 staffers in the county clerk's office. By 4 p.m., Justice Milton Tingling, the county clerk, told Law360 his office handled just 41 transactions. If people were scarce, social distancing measures at 60 Centre St. were in ample supply, including snaking pathways indicated by myriad signs on the walls and multicolored tape on the floors. A tour of the courthouse showed a reduced workforce back at their desks with most sporting surgical masks or other face coverings, as mandated by state Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. But it didn't appear that all the chief judge's safety measures touted in Tuesday's announcement were in place. There was no "required" COVID-19 screening for visitors before entering several courthouses, with court officers at 60 Centre St. and 111 Centre St., and the criminal courthouse at 100 Centre St., saying they had received no direction or equipment to do so. Judge Kaplan said she hadn't been directed to do such screening, but noted the large red signs telling people with symptoms not to enter remained prominently placed at the entrances.
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