Pandemic lessons for the courts | New


CANANDAIGUA – As the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.

This adage certainly applied to the state justice system two years ago, when it was virtually paralyzed at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. When it became clear that courthouses could be closed indefinitely, at least to the public, officials turned to virtual technology in an emergency.

“Ironically, we had made a number of efforts to modernize the justice system to take us into the future, and then came the pandemic,” Supreme Court Justice Craig Doran said in a recent interview. “The pandemic has really forced us to think outside the box, be creative and quickly implement new technologies.”

Although the emergency measures have kept some cases going and the justice system functioning to some extent, Doran said they were somewhat hit-or-miss.

“In some cases, we were looking at things on an hourly basis, literally changing procedures that were hundreds of years old and steeped in tradition and precedent – a very procedure-oriented system,” he added. “Technology doesn’t always fit seamlessly into these procedural changes.”

Now that things are mostly back to normal, Doran and others are looking at stopgap measures with an eye to the future. He chairs a task force of the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York Courts, which will hold public hearings next month in Buffalo and New York. The commission is chaired by attorney Hank Greenberg, former president of the New York State Bar Association.

“We have seen more change in the first two months of the pandemic than in 200 years of legal practice and judicial decision-making,” Greenberg said in a press release. “The justice system can learn from the pandemic and build on successful technological improvements and innovations.”

In June, the task force held a successful public hearing in Albany with 30 presenters. Doran said that while this hearing provided invaluable insight, “it’s time to take this show on the road.”

“In order to get the fullest picture of how pandemic practices have impacted — positive or negative — court operations, we need to hear from people across the state,” he said. . “The experience in metropolitan New York may have been different from the experience in Western New York, and the experience in the Capital Region was also unique. To see the big picture, we need to hear from people in every region.

The commission includes judges, lawyers, academics and technology experts. Among the topics covered:

• The impact of court-ordered covid technology, practices/protocols and policy on the fair and efficient administration of justice in the courts, including the use of remote technologies as well as modified procedures in person for legal proceedings.

• The ways in which pandemic practices have impacted the effectiveness of courts in providing timely and accessible legal services, including language access, to all litigants.

• New or redesigned uses of technology to improve efficiency and access to justice.

• Combine in-person and virtual practices to meet the varied needs of different court users.

• The impact of pandemic practices on the work of lawyers, judges and court personnel.

• Using technology to make the courts more accessible to New Yorkers with reduced mobility, who live in rural areas, who have child care obligations, or who might otherwise have difficulty attending in-person hearings.

“At times during the pandemic, we had judges at home and litigants (lawyers) at home … when no one could be in the courthouse. We were reluctant to use this technology before,” Doran said. “Now, looking back, we can use this virtual technology a lot more to make ourselves more efficient. For example, in the cases assigned to me, we can do a lot more in a day of virtual conferences instead of bringing in lawyer after lawyer, some from other states. This makes it cheaper for their customers.


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