Today, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced that the New York State Trial Courts would begin hearing non-essential matters through the previously established virtual court operations.  Last week we wrote about a memo from Judge Marks, which laid the groundwork for this announcement and the administrative order that expanded access to the courts beyond essential matters.

According to the announcement:

Starting today, judges will begin remotely scheduling and conducting conferences and hearings to address discovery disputes and other outstanding issues, advancing progress and facilitating resolution in pending civil and criminal cases that fall outside the limited scope of essential and emergency matters. These are preliminary−but significant−steps forward as we strive, in these challenging times, to carry on the vitally important business of the courts.

All conferences and other proceedings will continue to be conducted remotely with interactions taking place via telephone or videoconference.  Judges will also be available during normal business hours to address oral applications in non-essential cases via telephone or videoconference.  The announcement (as well as previous announcements) noted that the court's videoconference platform of choice is Skype for Business, which is what the courts have been using to hear emergency applications remotely.  The courts also published a guide for lawyers on using Skype for Business for court conferences and hearings.

The announcement also made clear that the expanded operations only apply to pending matters and that the earlier prohibition on new non-essential filings remains in effect until further note.  In addition, as we previously covered, judges will also be using this time to try and clear any backlog of motions that may be fully submitted.

This is a promising first step down the path towards expanding access to the courts while New York continues to deal with this pandemic.  In light of these developments, lawyers should be on the lookout for communications from judges and court staff in pending matters.   These notices likely will not arrive in the traditional format (i.e. via ECF) so it may be a good idea for lawyers to also coordinate with their adversaries to make sure they are on the same page about any upcoming deadlines and (virtual) court appearances.

And, as always, check back for more updates soon.