In our continuing effort to keep our clients and friends abreast of new developments regarding access to the court system, we provide the following update.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ninth Judicial District1 has been handling certain “essential” matters established by the Chief Administrative Judge. The courts have been centralized and the “Central Locations” are now being operated virtually with remote appearances only and being staffed primarily by a small group of court clerks. Those court clerks have been and continue monitoring and accepting filings for “essential” matters pursuant to the previous Administrative Orders and scheduling remote Skype for Business appearances for all interested parties, including the scheduled judge. All other court facilities, other than the Central Locations, remain closed.
However, our court district now desires to continue to serve the public and court users, while maintaining safe protocols limiting personal interaction and potential COVID-19 exposures, by establishing “Virtual Chambers” in order to address matters that go beyond those previously deemed “essential” matters during the public health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The following protocols apply to all courts in Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess and Putnam Counties. All interactions involving the courts shall be virtual and conducted via electronic (Skype for Business) or telephonic means. All references to “the Court” herein shall mean a Judge or Justice (referred to as “Judge” throughout), principal court attorney, secretary and/or court staff. A Court handling cases may engage in case conferencing and settlement discussions, decide motions and issue decisions, orders and/or judgments pursuant to this protocol.
Accordingly, effective 8:30 a.m. on Monday, April 13, 2020, Phase I of the Virtual Chambers plan began operations in the Ninth District (Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Dutchess and Putnam Counties), as provided herein. Priority shall be given to overdue “undecided” matters and pending motions. The judge shall process these first. Pending motions shall be decided on a first-in/first-out basis, unless the judge determines a certain matter to be urgent.
Initially, no new civil case filings shall be accepted for consideration in Virtual Chambers. Only matters pertaining to existing filed cases shall be considered in the sole discretion of the assigned judge. Any exceptions require prior approval of the Supervising Judge upon consultation with the Administrative Judge.
The e-file system shall continue to be utilized only for those “essential” filings set forth in the existing Administrative Orders. The e-file system, initially, shall not be utilized for any other existing business or new case filings, unless exceptions are granted by the District Administrative Judge. This policy will be reviewed weekly considering the requests from court users with the intent of gradually increasing the number of cases being handled in the Virtual Chambers. Nothing contained herein prevents a Court from uploading any document for any matter.
The consideration of specific matters authorized in this Phase shall be solely within the assigned judge’s discretion. All conferences and appearances shall be handled remotely by Skype for Business or telephone conference. No physical appearances are permitted under any circumstances. The attorney(s) requesting a conference shall be responsible for providing all contact information necessary for the Court to be able to initiate the Skype for Business or telephone conference once it is scheduled by the judge’s secretary or law clerk/court attorney. Skype for Business video conferencing is the only approved video platform at this time.
E-filing is available to Court Users for all documents, including Court notices. If for any reason the e-filing system is not available, then each Chambers keep a central “upload” digital file for all original decisions and orders, until such time as e-filing becomes available. If a case is not authorized for e-filing, then the Court shall maintain all original signed orders for filing when the County Clerk’s Office is able to accept them. The use of conformed signatures and facsimile signatures, as authorized by the Chief Administrative Judge, are permitted. All motion practice shall be on submission only unless specifically requested by the assigned judge.
No party shall make an audio or video recording of a remote telephone or video appearance without the written permission of the Court. All parties and the Court shall promptly disclose the identities of all parties and individuals present during a virtual court appearance.
New Motions and Orders to Show Cause (“OTSC”) in “Urgent” Non-Essential Matters: a. Motions and OTSC in “urgent” non-essential, new matters shall be filed with the Chief Clerk at the Central Locations and processed by the Designated Judge on duty pursuant to existing Virtual Court Room procedures to determine if it is an “urgent” matter to be considered.
SUPREME COURT MATRIMONIAL Pursuant to Administrative Order AO/78/20, no matrimonial actions are deemed “essential” matters warranting appearances in the Central Locations and NYSCEF is not accepting documents for filing. Nonetheless, pending matrimonial actions have certain urgent issues that shall be addressed as follows:
- The General Provisions and Exceptions discussed above shall apply.
- Identify and Prioritize Pending Urgent Matters:
- Matrimonial Judges shall prioritize the completion of all pending motions and decisions.
- The Court handling matrimonial actions shall also identify, prioritize and address all other urgent and overdue pending, undecided matters.
- Upon substantial completion of those matters identified as a priority above, the cases and proceedings handled by Virtual Chambers may be expanded to address other pressing matters pertaining to pending cases including, but not limited to, re-scheduling trials and hearings where the parties are represented, management of pending cases, motions, OTSC, settlement conferences, other ADR processes and any other matter the Court deems necessary to be heard in the interest of justice.
Attorneys may contact the designated Chamber’s representative, upon email notice to all parties, and request a remote conference with the Court on a matter they believe to be urgent. The Judge, in his or her sole discretion, shall determine if the matter is urgent and will be considered. Once a request by email for the conference is approved, chambers staff will send out an email to schedule the remote conference.
Orders to Show Cause: If an emergency Order to Show Cause is filed in a pending matrimonial action, the Designated Judge at the Central Location shall contact the Assigned Judge to determine whether the Assigned Judge wants to conference the case remotely instead of the Designated Judge deciding the matter on the papers.
- The General Provisions and Exceptions identified above shall apply.
- The Judge and Court Attorney shall prioritize pending Trial, Motion and Objection Decisions and Orders.
- Any matter deemed urgent by the Assigned Judge upon consultation with the Administrative Judge shall be processed accordingly by the Assigned Judge or the Designated Judge on duty at the Central location.
Trials and evidentiary hearings are held in abeyance until the Court re-opens. The right of confrontation and other procedural safeguards are difficult to replicate during this time. However, such proceedings are not precluded in the event all parties, including the Judge, consent.
Please stay safe and healthy during this unprecedented medical emergency.
James J. Nolletti, Esq.
Founder, Nolletti Law Group
Fellow, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers
Fellow, International Academy of Family Lawyers
1The Ninth Judicial District includes the counties of Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Dutchess and Orange.