On Monday, June 8, I co-moderated a Virtual Town Hall discussion with Hon. Linda S. Jamieson and Hon. Gretchen Walsh about litigating in the Westchester Commercial Division during COVID-19 and beyond, the Court’s operations, and the methods the justices are using to move cases forward. The justices have worked very hard throughout the pandemic, and we’re grateful for the time they took out of their busy schedules to speak with members of the Westchester County Bar Association. Here are some key takeaways:
Transition to Virtual Court
The justices have been using Skype for Business, the only video conferencing platform authorized by the New York State Unified Court System. Overall, conducting conferences and oral arguments via Skype for Business has been a smooth transition and efficient. Justice Jamieson views the use of virtual platforms as the wave of the future, at least for conferences, and encourages lawyers to do a test run before a real conference.
In addition, the justices have been flexible with attorneys during the pandemic, as they realize that it’s an especially difficult time for those with young children at home. If lawyers don’t have the ability to use Skype, the justices allow them to call in. But while the justices are understanding when it comes to attorneys’ ability to be productive at home, they don’t appreciate attorneys taking advantage of the increased flexibility.
Finally, Justice Walsh has found that the level of civility has gone up tremendously during the pandemic.
The justices agreed that trials would be difficult to conduct virtually. Both expressed concern about the ability to assess witness credibility via Skype, as it is hard to evaluate body language virtually. The justices also noted that attorneys may be uncomfortable cross-examining a witness that is not physically on the stand, as there is a risk that the witness is not answering the questions on his/her own.
As for the return of in-person jury trials, the justices agreed that they would not require jurors to come into the courthouse any time soon. Justice Jamieson noted that neither judges nor jurors want to expose themselves to COVID-19, and, it would require a great deal of maneuvering to safely space out jurors in the courtroom. Justice Jamieson believes that we’ll start to have jury trials at some point after a vaccine is available.
Settlement and ADR
The justices have been reaching out to lawyers to encourage them to settle and, during the pandemic, they have been successful in settling cases.
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George Krikorian, a law student at Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, assisted with the preparation of this post.