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New York-The new year brought a technological dawning in New York County Supreme Court: 14 judges and two mediators are now allowing attorneys to make certain types of court appearances by telephone. They are doing so on an experimental basis under the auspices of a Los Angeles-based company that has set up the infrastructure for phone-in court appearances in 14 other states. The company, CourtCall, has a year-long contract to run the program, which could be renewed for two additional years. At that point, if the experiment is found to be successful, bids would be solicited to run the program on a permanent basis, said Jonathan F. Werner, the chief clerk in New York County Supreme Court, the trial court for Manhattan. A $55 fee For the time being, the program will be financed solely by the $55 fee charged to attorneys each time they use CourtCall’s system for appearing by telephone. CourtCall spent “tens of thousands of dollars” on phone equipment and new phone lines for the courthouse, according to Robert V. Alvarado Jr., CourtCall’s chief executive officer. Should the system catch on, Alvarado said, it is possible the fee will be raised to $60, with the additional $5 being paid to the New York state treasury. Justice Jacqueline W. Silbermann, the administrative judge for New York County Supreme Court, said, “In this day and age it is appropriate that we experiment with not even high-tech, but low-tech equipment: the telephone.” Phone appearances can save clients fees by cutting down on travel time and enabling attorneys to make more appearances without having to travel from one courthouse to another, she said. Matthew J. Kelly of Roemer Wallens & Mineaux in Albany, N.Y., said he had used a telephone appearance to avoid what otherwise would have been a nine-hour trip from Albany to New York and back to handle a 45-minute initial mediation session. Instead, he said, he spent about 45 minutes with his speakerphone in earshot, waiting for his case to be called, and another 45 minutes in the mediation session. As a result, he added, his client saved several thousand dollars. And as an added bonus, Kelly was able to attend to other tasks before his case was called. About seven years ago, an initial effort was made to set up a phone system, but it never got off the ground, recalled Werner, the court’s chief clerk. Each judge who has agreed to participate has defined the type of appearances he or she will permit by telephone. Depending upon the judge, attorneys can appear by phone at status conferences, discovery conferences, oral argument of motions and pretrial conferences.

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