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Court Trials in the Days of COVID: How Courts and Litigants are Proceeding

Family & Matrimonial Law

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The COIVD-19 pandemic has forced courts to adapt new procedures and policies in order to make proceedings safe but productive. For people looking to pursue legal action, there are many concerns over how these changes will affect their legal issues. Not long ago, we joined together to hold a webinar that addressed how courts are handling cases during the COVID era, and what litigants should expect when pursuing legal action.

One of the biggest changes to lawsuits during this time is the increased integration of technology into the process of filing. Since the start of the pandemic, e-filing for cases has become mandated. While different, there are many advantages to filing cases electronically. Primarily, it protects the plaintiffs and lawyers from having to go out and risk the spread of COVID. But also, when filing like this, you can receive instant notification on the status of your file. When electronically filing your Family Court case through the Electronic Document Delivery System (EDDS), we will get an instant confirmation that your petition has been submitted for filing, which could sometimes take days to get otherwise. This can also save you, or any other potential clients some money, from having to constantly mail out files and traveling to and from court. The same is true for NYSCEF filings in divorce cases.

Once your case has been filed, there are many different ways it can proceed. If you have filled out a Request for Judicial Intervention (RJI) form, and a judge has been assigned to your case, you can expect your first court appearance to be held through a Microsoft Teams meeting. This is the primary videoconferencing software you will use when attending court virtually. It is important to note that in some of these appearances, there might be more people than just the attorneys and judge present. So, don’t be nervous if there are people you don’t immediately recognize, as there will be the typical court personnel sitting in on your case such as the court clerk or stenographer, also known as, the court reporter.

One of the issues that have come up in our experience related to custody matters involves Court appointed attorneys representing a child known as the AFC (Attorney for Child). Unfortunately, it is sometimes difficult to get the same level engagement and privacy that was common with in-person meetings. With many private meetings being held from computer screens or phones, there is the potential for others to hear confidential information related to the case. It is therefore necessary to take the necessary precautions so that you can protect your privacy when speaking with your attorney or when the child does so. As for involvement with your counsel, to avoid these problems, we have driven out to public places to meet with clients or stood outside their screen doors to make sure that we got their full story.  This allows us to proceed with their case with the same confidence and confidentiality of a more traditional setting. Be sure to discuss these safety precautions and alternatives with your attorney so that you can have the arrangements you need to feel comfortable with your proceedings.

Lastly, one of the most important points to remember when attending court virtually is that this is still Court and proper formalities must be observed. That means being prepared on your court date with the link to join the call on hand to prevent any mishaps. Also, you should take note of your background and attire when appearing virtually. This means that you should not be joining from your car or sloppily dressed. Be sure to do a test run with your Attorney before your court date to ensure that your audio and surroundings are working and appropriate.

Overall, the most important thing is to be adaptable and prepared when attending court virtually Be sure to discuss with your attorney all relevant information, including things you want to be brought up during the court appearance. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney for a moment to speak with them.  Also, don’t be offended if the judge asks you to step out of the meeting momentarily. While this may be different from what litigants are usually used to, rest assured that the courts and attorneys have made the necessary precautions to keep you safe while still being efficient in progressing your matter.

No matter the family or marital matter you face, the respectful, knowledgeable and experienced attorneys at Tully Rinckey handle your legal representation with sensitivity and care. We protect your rights and fight to help you realize the legal outcomes you desire. Let us represent you today. To schedule an initial consultation with a member from our experienced team, contact us 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at (888) 529-4543 or info@tullylegal.com.

 

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