07 Apr NYS Unified Court System and Virtual Courtroom Response to COVID-19 in Warren County, New York
NYS Unified Court System and Virtual Courtroom Response to COVID-19 in Warren County New York
On March 16th, the Chief Justice of the New York State Unified Court System, the Hon. Janet DiFiore, announced that, in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19, our courts would remain open, but operations would be limited to hearing “essential matters” only (the list included limited types of emergent legal matters). In response, the Court system was asked to reduce staffing and consolidate court operations into one “central courthouse” in each county. The central Courthouse in Warren County is located at the Warren County Municipal Center, 1340 State Route 9, Lake George, New York. In addition, because it was believed that COVID-19 would spread, thereby worsening the situation, the Court system was also asked to begin preparations for conducting court appearances remotely.
In response to that directive, the Court system has been diligently working over the past two weeks to establish remote connections with outside agencies—including the New York State Police, County Sheriffs, local police stations, District Attorneys, Public Defenders, Conflict Defenders, 18-b Attorneys, County Attorneys, local Departments of Social Services, State prisons, psychiatric hospitals, youth detention facilities, general hospitals, and attorneys—all in an effort to prepare for the necessary next step in the process, which is the move to virtual courtrooms. Those efforts have now been completed as of April 6, 2020 in the Fourth Judicial District, which covers Warren County.
Starting yesterday morning—Monday, April 6, 2020—all courts in the Fourth District began conducting “essential proceedings” that arose during business hours, remotely. All necessary parties, including the judge, are in remote locations and appear via a Skype connection which initiates from a courtroom in the Central Courthouse at the Warren County Municipal Center. The only employee in that courtroom is a court clerk handling all logistical coordination, including arranging for court interpreters, court reporters, facilitating necessary paperwork exchange, etc. Warren County’s Central Courthouses will remain open; however, it is anticipated that the number of people coming through the door will be greatly reduced, thereby reducing the spread. Court security is maintained at the Central Courthouse through the continued efforts of the dedicated Court Officers. A small staff of hard-working Clerk’s Office employees will be onsite as well to handle emergency “walk-ins”, answer phones and to facilitate the remote appearances. This means that no other employees will be in the Central Courthouse, again in an effort to slow the spread.
Since all court proceedings are open to the public, members of the Press and other interested persons will be permitted access to the courtroom to view the virtual proceedings, however, restrictions will be in place to ensure that appropriate social distancing is maintained. There are protocols for how this is to be handled at Warren County’s Central Courthouse and thoughtful protocols have been developed with consideration of the size of the courtroom and the particular circumstances of the situation.
After-hours proceedings – generally arraignments – also now function virtually as of April 6th. The after-hours Central Arraignment Part of Warren County (the “CAP” Court) is ready for virtual arraignments. Glens Falls City Court Judges, the Hon. Gary C. Hobbs and myself, the Hon. Nikki J. Moreschi, as well as Town and Villages Justices who handle off-hours arraignments in the other counties, have or will be transitioning to virtual proceedings as well. The necessary technology to permit this (scanners for City Judges) and computer enhancements for Town and Village Justices are expected to be completed by the end of this week.
Back at the Warren County’s Central Courthouse, members of the public who come in seeking assistance will see something new! Instead of going up to the public window for face-to-face interactions, they will be directed to a computer “kiosk” which has been specially configured to simulate an in-person communication, complete with the ability to fill out and submit papers electronically through that computer to Clerk’s Office personnel behind the public window. It is anticipated that these kiosk computers will be delivered and installed this week and will further promote the distancing necessary to contain the spread of the virus.
Starting April 13, 2020, the Court system will begin handling some, but not all, of the non-essential cases with an eye towards expanding the list of the types of non-essential cases as quickly as possible to resume full functioning of the Courts.
On behalf of Glens Falls City Court, the entirety of the Fourth Judicial District, and all of the Judges, Administrators, Technology Staff, Court Officers, Court Clerks, County Personnel and everyone tirelessly working behind the scenes to make this transition happen, we thank the public for their patience as we continue to provide the public with the necessary access to their Court system in a safe manner.