The New York court system closed down during the height of the coronavirus padnemic earlier this year and has since slowly began to bring personnel and members of the public back to some physical locations.
But returning to a pre-pandemic version of the state's courts will take a long time, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said on Monday in a videotaped message.
In-person jury trials have been allowed on a pilot basis in select counties, with three criminal trials underway in the coming week in Oneida, Onondaga and Washington counties. Four civil jury trials will also be taking place in Oneida, Orange, Suffolk and Westchester counties.
And the court system plans to expand its pilot program to New York City by the middle of next month. Jury summonses have gone out this week for a limited number of civil trials that have been scheduled in the lower courts in New York City.
Nevertheless, a full-blown return to business as usual will still take some time, DiFiore said.
"Notwithstanding the progress that our judges and professional staff are making to resume and gradually expand in-person operations, we recognize that it will be a long time, if ever, before we can return to even a semblance of the in-person density and activity that took place in our courthouses before the pandemic," DiFiore said. "And so, we are working constantly to expand our virtual capacity and improve our virtual operations – now and for the future."
Those changes include further reliance on video conference software for meetings with lawyers and witnesses in the coming weeks, DiFiore said.
Many cases have been resolved without going to trial with settlements and plea bargains, which DiFiore said a routine outcome
"The resolution of cases before trial is a normal and expected outcome, and it is a reminder of the importance of trial capacity in the effective management of our dockets," she said.