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Virtual court proceedings to expand in ongoing cases Monday, officials say

The Nassau County Court House in Mineola during

The Nassau County Court House in Mineola during the coronavirus pandemic. Credit: Newsday/Bridget Murphy

The virtual operations of New York's trial courts during the coronavirus pandemic will take another step forward Monday, when attorneys will be able to electronically file motions in ongoing cases that aren't emergencies, according to a top judge.

In a memo Thursday, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks pegged the new development as a further expansion of judicial services following a transition to virtual court proceedings after the public health crisis began.

Marks said the change would “increase access to justice,” but a ban on filing new civil cases in nonemergency matters would still stand.

The virtual expansion applies to the filing of motions in both pending civil and criminal matters and the e-filing system already in place in many jurisdictions will be used for both kinds of cases, state courts spokesman Lucian Chalfen said Friday.

Starting in mid-March, state judges began holding Skype video conference proceedings for post-arrest arraignments and other cases that the courts considered essential matters.

The virtual transition began after state officials consolidated courthouse operations in each county to decrease foot traffic and try to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Starting April 13, New York judges also began to hold Skype video conferences in cases that weren’t emergencies to try to settle matters that were close to resolution and address a growing backlog.

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Since then, trial judges have presided in more than 25,000 cases and a third of the matters were concluded, Marks’ memo said.

“Data shows that we are, indeed, moving the work of the courts forward,” New York’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said in a video message Monday providing an update on COVID-19-related court system developments.

In Nassau County Court, virtual proceedings in criminal cases involving felony charges have included at least 13 guilty pleas, approximately 30 arraignments on grand jury indictments and about 100 bail applications since mid-March, according to court officials.

Those virtual proceedings included a South Floral Park man’s guilty plea to second-degree murder on Wednesday via video conference from the Riverhead jail.

“I like the fact that they are trying to expand things,” Mineola defense attorney Christopher Graziano said Friday of Marks’ order.

But Graziano, who sits on the board of the Criminal Courts Bar Association of Nassau County, also said many criminal cases remain stalled following the suspension during the pandemic of speedy trial requirements and rules by which prosecutors provide discovery — or evidence — against defendants.

“There’s no grand jury proceedings either and the client just has to sit in jail,” he said of arrestees who haven’t made bail but aren’t yet indicted.

Garden City attorney Sari Friedman, who handles matrimonial cases, said local residents seeking to file new lawsuits that include divorce cases “pay taxes, are citizens of the county and have a right to be serviced by the court system.”

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