NY State Courts To End All 'Nonessential' Activities

By Frank G. Runyeon
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Law360, New York (March 15, 2020, 8:42 PM EDT) -- New York state courts will indefinitely postpone all "nonessential" services as of the close of business Monday, using videoconferences for arraignments and urging judges to reduce the number of people in courthouses to help stem the spread of coronavirus.

Coming on the heels of a Friday memorandum canceling new jury trials, the mandate issued on Sunday means that "the vast majority of courthouse activity will diminish," a spokesman said.

While New York City courthouses will remain open with limited services, other courthouses throughout the state will shut down entirely and essential matters will be consolidated in specially designated courthouses in those jurisdictions, according to the order by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks. All court employees are being asked to stay home unless otherwise directed, the order said.

"Please note that, in addressing essential applications, judges will exercise judicial discretion in a manner designed to minimize court appearance and traffic in courts," the order said.

Criminal arraignments will take place via "video remote appearances in New York City and to the fullest extent possible throughout the state," including in lower courts and for felony defendants in custody, according to the order. Felony arraignments for defendants not in custody will be adjourned "until further notice," the order said.

The Supreme Court's trial courts will be limited to handling essential matters such as mental hygiene law applications, civil commitments and guardianships, the order states. Family Court, Surrogate's Court and Court of Claims judges may handle "essential applications as the court may allow."

Evictions will also come to a standstill statewide, according to the order.

"These initiatives are part of our continuing and evolving efforts to assure the operation of the courts in the safest possible manner for the public and our employees in this time of medical emergency," Judge Marks wrote, adding that further questions should be directed to the relevant supervising judge.

Activities on electronic filing systems will not be affected by the cutbacks, a court spokesman said.

The new policy will apply to 350 state-run courthouses with more than 1,500 courtrooms, affecting 16,000 employees of the New York state court system — not to mention legions of attorneys.

As of Sunday afternoon, New York state had 729 diagnosed cases of the virus, including 329 in New York City and 196 in Westchester County. The number of cases in New York City has doubled since Friday.

--Editing by Adam LoBelia.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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