(Reuters) - New York’s state court system has taken strong steps to curtail operations in light of the Coronavirus pandemic, saying it would limit filings to only “essential” matters and conduct many proceedings electronically.
Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks on Sunday ordered that no filings by accepted either in paper or electronic form except in certain specified matters, including bail applications and child protection matters, or any matters deemed essential by a judge.
Many other states’ courts have postponed many proceedings and required others to be conducted through teleconferencing in light of the pandemic, according to information compiled by the non-profit National Center of State Courts. However, New York appeared to be the first state to limit the type of filings allowed.
Other types of allowed filings include criminal arraignments, orders of protection for domestic violence victims and emergency housing matters.
On Monday, New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said in a statement posted on the courts’ website that in light of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order pausing statutes of limitations for civil lawsuits, “there is no basis, at this time, to accept any court filings and papers involving non-essential matters, which will only defeat the purpose of our temporarily scaled back operations at this critical time.”
DiFiore also said that two New York City courts, its criminal court and its family court, would adopt a “virtual court” model this week.
”What that means is that no judges, attorneys, litigants or agency personnel will be present in our courthouses,” DiFiore said. “Only a very small number of clerical staff will be on hand to process critical paperwork, along with appropriate security.”
That announcement did not address any of other courts in the state, though Marks had already announced on March 15 “all non-essential functions” of the entire state court system would be postponed until further notice, and that criminal arraignments would take place remotely when possible.
While trials then in progress were allowed to conclude, no new trials have begun since that order was put in place.
The court’s announcement comes amid efforts to release at-risk inmates from New York jails. The top administrative judge for Manhattan’s criminal courts, Ellen Biben, is coordinating the city’s so-called consent release program and has asked district attorneys from each of New York City’s five boroughs to identify defendants who can be released from jail, with a judge’s sign-off.
A total of 87 people had been identified for release as of Friday, according to Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state court system. Numbers for counties outside New York City were not available.