New York’s Virtual Courts Open for Business
As the COVID-19 outbreak spreads throughout New York, New York courts had to substantially restrict operations to protect public safety and the health of court personnel. The initial state court limitations restricted access to the courts to certain essential matters (e.g., criminal, mental health, and domestic violence and family matters). These limitations were temporary and this week judges and other court personnel began using video conferences and telephone conferences to help get commercial litigation back on track. Tannenbaum Helpern lawyers participated in these conferences and can report that New York courts are again substantially open for business (at least in pending cases).
Administrative Order AO/85/20, issued by the Chief Administrative Judge on April 8, 2020, permitted judges to schedule virtual conferences in business disputes. Shortly thereafter, Commercial Division Justices throughout the state began reaching out to counsel to schedule status, settlement and discovery conferences via Skype for Business and telephone conference calls. Tannenbaum Helpern litigators Vincent Syracuse and Carl Regelmann appeared in one of the first of these virtual court conferences this week with a Nassau County Supreme Court Commercial Division Justice. The videoconference allowed the attorneys to discuss the status of the case and the judge was able to move the matter forward by scheduling new dates for the parties. For those familiar with virtual conferencing applications, such as Zoom or GoToMeeting, the Skype for Business platform was quite easy to use. The Unified Court System is also scheduling test calls before court conferences to make sure that practitioners are easily able to connect with the court.
Counsel in New York State commercial matters can now expect judges in their cases to schedule virtual conferences as they work through their caseloads. Mechanisms are also in place that allow counsel to make applications to judges requesting a virtual court conference. The scheduling requirements in each court are governed by specific rules promulgated either by a particular justice or judicial district. For example, the Tenth Judicial District has established a detailed protocol for all of its cases. In New York County, on the other hand, some individual justices have set forth temporary part rules. Regardless of how they are scheduled, these conferences put state court litigation back on course. They provide an opportunity for judges and counsel to discuss settlement and address any outstanding discovery disputes among litigants. In addition to holding these conferences, judges are using their time away from the courthouse to draft decisions on fully submitted motions so that when court operations fully resume, they will have time to handle the influx of new cases.
New York’s appellate courts are also actively operating remotely. The First and Second Departments, for example, which hear appeals from courts in New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, are scheduling oral arguments via Skype for Business. New York’s federal courts also remain in operation, subject to their own restrictions and procedures concerning filings and physical access to the courts. It is important to stay current and review the rules and procedures for each individual court before attempting to proceed with litigation.
Virtual access to New York’s State courts in the area of commercial litigation has expanded rapidly in only a few weeks despite the emergency circumstances. As attorneys and the state court’s judges, staff, and personnel become acclimated to working remotely, we anticipate that New York’s courts will continue to expand their virtual operations. These advances have only been made in pending cases. As of now, new filings are still limited to essential matters and very few new business litigations may be commenced. Moreover, electronic filing is not available in pending matters. Still, the progress has been helpful to assure the business community that the courts are seeking to address commercial matters in the current challenging environment. We will continue to keep you posted on these developments and remain ready to advise clients on all aspects of their commercial disputes during the pandemic.
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Business Litigation Bulletin is a newsletter of Tannenbaum Helpern Syracuse & Hirschtritt LLP’s Litigation and Dispute Resolution practice. It provides strategic perspectives on legal cases that impact the business community.