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Suffolk County (NY) Operating Protocols – Effective February 22, 2021

February 23, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">As COVID-19 numbers seem to be at least be trending in the right direction, NY courts are preparing to resume in-person proceedings.  (For the time being, remote appearances will remain the norm, but it makes sense to be prepared for in-person litigation.)   Suffolk County has issued new protocols, which you can review <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/VirtualBenchTrial-Protocols-2112021.pdf"><strong>here</strong>.</a>  Effective February 22, 2021, the new protocols include the following:</p>

<ul style="text-align: justify;">
<li>Each Judge may hold in-person proceedings on two days each week, subject to clerk staff, courtroom space and time availability, unless an exception is requested and granted by the Administrative Judge;</li>
<li>Occupancy of all courtrooms shall be limited to the lesser of 20 people or 1/2 the posted room occupancy per code, however, an exception shall be granted for jury trials or grand juries (in those instances, occupancy shall be limited to the lesser of 30 people or 1/2 the posted room occupancy per code).</li>
<li>The following matters may be heard in person, <em><strong>provided the presiding judge finds the matter cannot proceed virtually:</strong></em>
<ul>
<li>All matters mentioned on Exhibit A of the Court’s update;</li>
<li>Article 10 proceedings;</li>
<li>Adoptions;</li>
<li>Civil and Criminal Evidentiary Hearings and Bench Trials;</li>
<li>Pleas and Sentences;</li>
<li>Jury Trials may be scheduled to occur beginning March 22, 2021;</li>
<li>Surrogate's Court Citations;</li>
<li>Eviction Proceedings;</li>
<li>Any proceeding involving a self-represented litigant where the judge determines that holding the proceeding via Microsoft Teams denies the litigant meaningful access to the proceeding; and</li>
<li>Traffic violation proceedings.</li>
</ul>
</li>
</ul>
<p style="text-align: justify;">All other matters must be heard virtually via Microsoft Teams. All that being said, the Administrative Judge can exact more restrictive protocols as deemed appropriate.  The Unified Court System has also issued its protocols and procedures to <strong><a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/VirtualBenchTrial-Protocols-2112021.pdf">opt for Virtual bench trials</a></strong> -- a decision which will hinge on the case, and a collaboration between the attorneys and their clients.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Interestingly, it appears jury trials are an exception to the courtroom occupancy limitations that otherwise govern.   Even assuming the courtrooms and court staff have social distancing protocols in mind, the current framework still requires jurors to be summoned--and to appear--at the courthouse.    As vaccination numbers increase, we expect jurors will be more amenable to appearing to serve.     To the extent jury trials actually do return in New York in 2021, we expect those trials to take place with social distancing guidelines in mind, and with masked attorneys, witnesses, court staff and jurors.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Corey Morgenstern for his contribution to this post.  Please email <a href="mailto:Bgibbons@wcmlaw.com">Brian Gibbons</a> with any questions.</p>

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