New York City courts will restart in-person court operations in all five boroughs Wednesday after being largely shuttered by the coronavirus pandemic that forced staff and judges away from its courthouses.
The phased restart, announced jointly by New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks on Tuesday, comes four weeks after New York’s court system first announced plans for returning to normal operations, beginning with its largely rural upstate counties. Courts in counties closer to the city were permitted to follow suit two weeks later.
The reopening is a major step for a city hit particularly hard by the outbreak, with 204,576 confirmed Covid-19 diagnoses and 17,203 confirmed deaths according to data compiled by the New York City Department of Health.
Although state courts were still conducting businesses during the pandemic, at times using a remote appearance system, operations in courthouses were limited.
The resumption of in-court operations follows a determination that the city’s five boroughs have met required key health benchmarks put into place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the judges said in their statement.
“We will rigorously monitor safety protocols and day-to-day operations, carefully balancing the justice needs of those served by our New York City courts with the safety of all those who work in and visit courthouses in the five boroughs,” DiFiore, the chief judge, said.
While judges, chambers staff and support personnel will return during this initial phase, court business will continue to be conducted virtually to minimize foot traffic, making exceptions for pro se litigants who don’t have remote-access technology.
Court operations will also look different than they did before the pandemic, they said. In order to keep staff and visitors safe, the courts will implement new protective measures like social distancing, screening non-employee court visitors for the virus before entry, requiring masks for visitors and staff, and increased sanitation.