Courts in the five boroughs began Phase 2 operations on June 24, marking a partial return to in-person operations, two days after businesses did.
“While there will be a measured increase in courthouse activity and staffing under Phase 2, the vast majority of nonessential matters will continue to be held virtually,” Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals and of the State of New York Janet DiFiore said on June 22. “We are encouraged by the smooth and steady progress being made across the state as we gradually restore in-person court operations, but we do recognize that there are many difficult challenges ahead of us, especially in regard to our high-volume courthouses in New York City and other populous areas of the state.”
Throughout Phase 1, judges, chambers staff and support staff of courthouses which had met Gov. Cuomo’s safety benchmarks had been gradually returning to the courthouses. For Phase 2, nonjudicial staffing levels will begin to increase in order to accommodate the slight increase in courthouse foot traffic as well as in administrative functions. In an effort to keep staff numbers present in the facilities down, nonreporting staff will continue to work remotely.
In Phase 2, the city’s Family Court, which oversees child protective proceedings, adoption cases and juvenile delinquency cases, will add more virtual courtrooms. This aspect differs from Phase 2 proceedings in other counties across the state, which allowed essential family matters to be conducted in-person and heard by the assigned judge. City Family Court began accepting nonessential and nonemergency applications in pending cases as of April 13, but has not yet opened for the initiation of new nonemergency cases.
DiFiore also announced that Housing Courts have adopted new practices as of June 20 for residential and commercial evictions in order to quell an influx of cases — all commencement documents in eviction proceedings must be filed by mail through the New York State Courts Electronic Filing System. Additionally, petitions must include an “affirmation from the petitioner, or petitioner’s counsel, stating that they have reviewed all of the state and federal legal restrictions on commencing new eviction proceedings and believe in good faith that the petition is consistent with those provisions,” as well as “a plain language notice advising tenants that they may be eligible for an extension of time to answer the petition and providing telephone numbers and website links where tenants can get further information about their rights.”
DiFiore noted that, in accordance with Gov. Cuomo’s executive order suspending prosecution of certain legal matters, eviction proceedings will remain stayed.
As for the city’s Surrogate’s Courts, which hears cases involving the affairs of decedents, including the probate of wills and the administration of estates, as well as adoptions, they will only consider essential applications.
The Queens County Clerk’s Office, which handles new business registration filings, certification of documents and veterans’ peddler licenses, has also returned to in-person operations.
City courts will continue to implement Phase 1 measures, including requiring a face covering for anyone entering the courthouse, providing distance markers to enforce social distancing, regularly sanitizing the facilities and installing acrylic barriers, hand sanitizer dispensers and other safety features.
“Over the last months, we have experienced, in the most profound ways, the tragic impact that the COVID pandemic has had on our families, on our communities and on our economy ... In every crisis there are opportunities. And this crisis has presented us with a unique opportunity to learn from the pandemic’s impact on court operations and embrace the latest technologies and innovations, in order that we may build a new and better court system for the future, a court system well-equipped to meet the evolving justice needs of our fellow New Yorkers,” said DiFiore.
In addition to the June 23 announcement that city courts would move ahead into Phase 2, New York Court of Claims Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks announced a new administrative judge was named in Queens County effective immediately.
Justice Marguerite A. Grays was appointed as administrative judge for Civil Matters in the Eleventh Judicial District Tuesday and will oversee the day-to-day operations of Queens County’s Supreme Court-Civil Term.
For information visit nycourts.gov or call the Coronavirus Telephone Hotline at (833) 503-0447.