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The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts Releases Goals for Restarting in-Person Juries

In mid-June, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore appointed the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts, and charged it with examining technological, regulatory, and other long-term innovations for New York Courts.  Additionally, in the short-term, it was to provide recommendations for resuming in-person court operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  

On August 5, 2020, the Commission released its recommendations for restarting in-person grand juries, jury trials, and other related proceedings.  The Commission first considered what type of jury trials should take priority.  For civil cases, the Commission recommended prioritizing jury trials based on:  (i) prior continuances of trial dates, (ii) filing date of the case, (iii) nature of the relief sought, and (iv) circumstances of the parties.  It also emphasized that courts should create a plan for courthouse and courtroom access (e.g., screening visitors, cleaning protocols, limiting on-site staff, etc.) and ensure that these policies are broadcasted with every possible communication medium, including QR codes and Twitter.  Notably, according to the Commission, courts should inform prospective jurors of the steps the Court is taking to ensure their safety. 

To limit large jury pools, the Commission suggested using pre-screening questions specific to COVID-19 and creating a more liberal deferral policy.  Courts should also consider remote initial screenings to identify jurors who will be excused because of time, hardship, or for-cause to reduce the number of prospective jurors that report to courthouses.  And when jurors do report, courts should consider using staggered times to avoid rush-hour commuting. 

For trials, the Commission advised conducting pretrial proceedings virtually by phone or video to reduce courthouse foot traffic.  During trials, courts should establish guidelines in advance for lawyers, such as whether to wear masks when addressing the court and how sidebars will be conducted.  For jury deliberations, courts should locate alternative spaces in the courthouse if traditional jury rooms do not allow for adequate social distancing. 

Chief Judge DiFiore commented that the Commission’s recommendations are an “excellent starting point for New York’s judges, court administrators and relevant stakeholders to consider as the Court System works to safely re-establish in-person operations.”[1]

The complete report can be read here.


[1] Press Release, New York Unified Court System, Chief Judge’s Commission to Reimagine the Future of NY’s Courts Issues First Set of Recommendations (August 5, 2020), https://www.nycla.org/pdf/PR20_39.pdf.