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COVID-19’s Effect on New York Commercial Division

Over the last few days, Judge Lawrence K. Marks, the Chief Administrative Judge of the New York State Unified Court System, issued two memoranda bearing on COVID-19’s effect on the Commercial Division.

First, by memorandum dated March 13, 2020, Judge Marks announced that he and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore have implemented a number of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and protect the well-being of court personnel.  As they relate to the Commercial Division, the measures, effective, March 16, 2020, include the following: (i) suspension of all trials in which opening statements have not commenced; however, trials that are already underway shall continue through completion; (ii) suspension of jury selection; (iii) unless otherwise directed in exceptional circumstances, all motions shall be taken on submission and argument shall be conducted via remote means whenever possible; and (iv) preliminary and compliance conference calendars shall be managed with the goal of minimizing courthouse appearances, maximizing adjournments and stipulations on consent, and directing remote appearances via Skype or telephone.  Additionally, the memorandum places restrictions on meetings and travel by judicial and non-judicial staff of the Unified Court System.

Second, by memorandum dated March 15, 2020, Judge Marks implemented further operational protocols for trial courts in the New York Unified Court System.  The memorandum directs that, effective 5:00 p.m. on Monday, March 16, 2020, all “non-essential functions of the courts” shall be postponed until further notice.  “All essential functions will continue,” as described in the memorandum.  Inside of New York City, “essential applications” in the Supreme Court include “Mental Hygiene Law applications, civil commitments, and guardianships.”  Further, “in addressing essential applications, judges will exercise judicial discretion in a manner designed to minimize court appearance and traffic in the courts.”  (Emphasis in original.)  “Outside of New York City, special court parts will be established in individual jurisdictions (at the courthouses listed in Attachment A) where essential matters will be consolidated.”  The memorandum also provides that “[t]he Court System will be establishing an emergency telephone number, available 24/7, for all questions from the public relating to court operations during the coronavirus public health emergency.”

We are continuing to monitor the situation, and will provide further updates as they become available.

By Muhammad U. Faridi and Stephen P. Younger