Chief Judge Janet DiFiore delivers an important message regarding coronavirus. Photo: New York State Unified Court System Chief Judge Janet DiFiore delivers an important message regarding the coronavirus. Photo: New York State Unified Court System

In a video published online Friday, New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore explained how the state court system is addressing the coronavirus crisis and why it’s important for the courts to remain open, though they’ve been in an essential-functions-only mode since 5 p.m. Monday.

Court leaders are working to ensure access to justice for New Yorkers while also trying to contain the spread of the coronavirus, DiFiore said.

“As you know, our courts are critical to the functioning of our society, and even more so during a public health crisis like this one when the public needs to know that our government is working for them—that our courts are open to deliver justice, to preserve public safety and to resolve public issues on an expedited basis. And importantly, that the rule of law remains fully in effect,” she said.

Postponing nonessential proceedings “dramatically reduced” the number of people in New York’s courthouses, DiFiore said, and some counties have consolidated their courts into a single building. Video and teleconferencing technology is in use “wherever possible,” she said, praising the court system’s technology staff for their quick action.

In New York City, adult detainees in criminal court and juvenile detainees in family court are appearing by video for arraignments, DiFiore said.

A spokesman for the court system confirmed that officials are working now to create virtual court parts, which would help lawyers and judges avoid gathering in a central location for the duration of the crisis.

DiFiore thanked the judges and court staff who are still coming into courthouses in an “unprecedented situation.” At least two cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed among the state’s judiciary, one involving a Supreme Court justice in Queens and another in Brooklyn.

Lawyers and other personnel who had recently appeared in state courthouses have also received coronavirus diagnoses, and court officials said they worked quickly to clean the affected rooms.

DiFiore urged court personnel to look toward the future, noting that the post-crisis courts are sure to be busy.

“We will have our hands full once this crisis is over,” she said. “If there is one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that the economic consequences and legal fallout of any societal crisis, especially one of this magnitude, will be manifested and felt in our court dockets. We will be ready to meet the challenge.”

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