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Virtual courts remain productive

Glitches sorted; protocols and best practices come to fore

By: Bennett Loudon//January 26, 2021

Virtual courts remain productive

Glitches sorted; protocols and best practices come to fore

By: Bennett Loudon//January 26, 2021

New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that, during the holiday-shortened week of Jan. 18, the state’s virtual courts conferenced and heard 19,633 matters; settled or disposed of 5,070 of those matters; and issued over 1,530 written decisions on motions and other undecided matters.

In addition, 673 virtual bench trials and evidentiary hearings were started last week, DiFiore said in her weekly video report on the status of the state’s court system during the pandemic.

“The increasing number of virtual bench trials and evidentiary proceedings being conducted around the state each week reflects the growing proficiency of our judges and court staff in delivering remote justice services to lawyers and their clients, as well as the unrepresented, in our new virtual court model,” she said.

The impressive productivity reflects the efforts of administrative judges who have been collaborating with their judges and local bar associations to develop protocols and best practices for conducting virtual bench trials and evidentiary hearings in their different courts, she said.

DiFiore said she has asked Nassau County Administrative Judge Norman St. George to oversee the task of collecting and collating the local plans and shaping them into a uniform set of best practices to guide the statewide bench and bar in conducting virtual bench trials and hearings during the remainder of the pandemic, and beyond.

Judge St. George is consulting on this project with the Commission on the Future of New York’s Courts, and they are expected to create a guide for the conduct of virtual trials and proceedings early next month.

The court system’s virtual court model has been aided by the Division of Technology. A support team has been available around the clock to allow judges, court staff, attorneys, litigants, agency representatives and others with business before the courts to test their Skype audio-visual connectivity prior to their virtual appearances.

By smoothing out any tech glitches beforehand, the support team played a key role in facilitating the smooth and efficient functioning of the virtual courts.

Early on, the team handled hundreds of test requests each weekday, and a smaller number on weekends. In total, they conducted about 9,000 tests before the system was transitioned to Microsoft Teams in November.

A smaller group of staff remains in place to support test requests involving the new Microsoft Teams platform, and to date they have conducted about 500 tests involving Microsoft Teams.

DiFiore thanked the lawyers who participated in the New York State Bar Association’s COVID-19 Pro Bono Recovery Task Force for providing urgently needed assistance to New Yorkers facing pandemic-related legal problems.

She said 600 lawyers worked with the Surrogate’s Courts to provide legal help in probate matters to individuals and families who lost loved ones to COVID-19.

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