Effective Monday, May 24, 2021, “all judges and court staff will be required to physically return to work in their assigned courthouses. It is time to return to our normal and full courthouse staffing levels in order to support the fuller resumption of in-person operations, including jury trials and other proceedings in our courts” so declared Chief Judge Janet DiFiore on April 19, 2021.

The “plan to restore full staffing is in line with the state’s reopening efforts, and with the latest public health guidance. The extensive safety measures that we have implemented to protect the health of everyone working in and entering our buildings, including: COVID screening and temperature checks; disciplined use of face masks and PPE; social distancing protocols; installation of acrylic barriers; and strict cleaning and sanitizing, will continue.

With normal staffing levels, the courts we will be able to conduct an increased number of in-court proceedings, including jury trials.

The return to full staffing does not mean that the courts we will be returning to the densely crowded courthouses of pre-COVID days. A plan  that will limit the number of people physically present in courthouses to safe and responsible levels is being prepared and it will continue to rely on the permanent integration of remote technology and virtual appearances to hear those matters not requiring the physical presence of lawyers and litigants in court buildings.

This announcement is a far cry from the March 22, 2020 directive that “effective immediately and until further order, no papers shall be accepted for filing by a county clerk or a court in any matter of a type not included on the list of essential matters.”

Fortunately, as we learned how to as safely as possible deal with the impact of COVID-19 the courts did re-open and judges, court personnel and attorneys and clients learned how to adapt and

proceed via the use of remote technology and virtual appearances. Indeed, for the week of April 12, the state’s courts conducted 1,440 online bench trials and hearings were commenced, judges and staff remotely conferenced over 24,200 matters; settled or disposed of almost 6,000 of those matters; and issued 2,350 written decisions on motions and other undecided matters.

Even as society returns to “normal”, please remember COVID remains a health risk. Please continue to follow all applicable health and safety guidelines and if medically possible, get vaccinated as a way to protect you, your family, your colleagues, and neighbors.

Kevin C. Murphy is a member of The Wladis Law Firm, P.C., located in Syracuse, New York, and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America. If you have issues or concerns with environmental law issues from nationwide permits to the redevelopment of environmentally impacted properties or federal or state enforcement concerns, please contact Mr. Murphy or Attorney Timothy Lambrecht of our office.

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Kevin C. Murphy

Kevin C. Murphy concentrates his practice in the areas of environmental compliance and litigation; environmental and white-collar criminal defense, and complex litigation matters. Mr. Murphy is a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and a former senior trial attorney with both the Kings County (NY) District Attorney’s office and the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Crimes Section in Washington, D.C. He previously taught a seminar on environmental criminal enforcement at the Syracuse University School of Law and has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America.

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