Knowing that the wheels of justice must turn, even in the middle of a pandemic, New York’s court system announced the statewide launch of “virtual courts” to limit judiciary workers’ exposure to the novel Coronavirus in a press release on April 6.
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks said that virtual court operations that would allow essential and emergency court proceedings to be conducted remotely, are up and running. Judges, criminal defendants, civil litigants, attorneys, and some court staff will now use video-conference for essential and emergency court proceedings.
A new press release on April 13 stated that the virtual court model is being expanded beyond the limited category of essential and emergency matters. This may mean that non-essential court operations, such as public access to court records, will be restricted in the meantime.
“We have implemented a series of unprecedented, temporary measures, beginning by placing restrictions on courthouse entry by at-risk persons,” said Marks. “(This) will eliminate person-to-person contact in court proceedings and minimize courthouse traffic.”
Nonetheless, despite these restrictions, New Yorkers can still visit courts’ websites as well as third-party websites to access all public records on https://newyork.staterecords.org/court.php.
This virtual court model, which was first introduced in New York City’s Criminal Court and Family Court on March 25 and 26, is a temporary measure and is being scaled in response to the growing COVID-19 epidemic in New York. It has since been rolled out in all 62 counties of New York.
“Our shift to a virtual court system has made it possible for participants in essential and emergency proceedings to appear remotely via Skype, dramatically reducing the number of people in our courthouses to protect public health and safety,” said DiFiore.
Meanwhile, proceedings are still public as a core group of court clerks and officers continue to staff the virtual courts to process critical paperwork and provide security. Court security personnel strictly monitor, enforce social distancing, and best-practices per current public health guidelines.