The New York State Court System will gradually resume in-person operations next week in 30 upstate counties that have met virus safety benchmarks established by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Announced on Wednesday, the court system’s plan for a gradual return to normal business marks a major turning point for the U.S. state hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic that forced its courthouses to curtail in-person proceedings and conduct much of its business by remote hook-up.
Still, the Administrative Office of the Courts statement remained silent on the status of courts in New York City’s five counties and its suburbs that became the U.S. epicenter of the virus outbreak. Also omitted from the list are those counties that include the state’s capital, Albany, and its second-largest city, Buffalo. Monroe County, which includes the state’s third-largest city, Rochester, did make the list and its courts will start to reopen.
“As we enter this first phase of our return to our courthouses, we will move carefully and steadily. We will regularly review our safety and other practices, adapting our protocols and facilities as needed,” New York State Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said in the statement announcing the initiative.
The move came on the same day the New York State Bar Association issued its guidelines for law firms seeking their own return to normalcy.
The first phase of the return to business, which includes use of judges’ chambers and other court offices, will start May 18 in some of those counties and the others two days later, according to the press statement. Court goers and staff will be required to wear masks, social distancing will be monitored, and non-employee visitors will be screened for the virus.
The plans in these jurisdictions will serve as a template for the return of judges and staff to courthouses in other counties of the state, according to the court system’s statement.