Brooklyn Bar Association News

Posted by: Robert Abruzzese on Feb 16, 2021

The New York State Court System recently issued a guide called, "Virtual Bench Trial Protocols and Procedures." The guide was written by Justice Norman St. George, Administrative Judge for the Nassau County Supreme Court, and it aims to present a simple and practical roadmap to conducting a Virtual Bench Trial.

From the guide:

The Covid-19 pandemic has required all Courts across New York State to innovate and adapt in order to continue to provide the effective and efficient administration of justice and Access to Justice for all Court users consistent with the highest standards of Chief Judge DiFiore’s Excellence Initiative. Our Courts have uniformly transitioned to Microsoft Teams as a platform to conduct oral arguments on motions, preliminary/status/compliance/pre-trial conferences, hearings, A.D.R. settlement conferences, inquests, criminal arraignments, and pleas all by virtual means in order to ensure the safety and health of all Court users.

New York State Courts have also utilized Microsoft Teams to facilitate Virtual Bench Trials. Virtual Bench Trials are, in all respects, identical to In-Person Courtroom Bench Trials in terms of the format, content and formality. However, certain modifications are necessary regarding the presentation of testimonial, documentary, and physical evidence in order to safeguard accuracy and ensure reliability.

Although these modifications are generally applicable to all types of Virtual Bench Trials in the various Courts, each Court should adapt the foregoing to their specific needs, requirements, and concerns. Included herein is a separate section that specifically addresses Virtual Criminal Bench Trial considerations. A Proposed Stipulation and Order for the parties to review and sign prior to the commencement of a Virtual Bench Trial is attached hereto as “Exhibit A”.

The following guide demystifies the proceedings and presents a simple and practical roadmap to conducting a Virtual Bench Trial. It also informs all participants on what to expect. This guide has truly been a collaborative effort. These materials represent a collection of the Best Practices from all of the Judicial Districts throughout the State. We thank all of the Administrative Judges, the Presiding Judge of the Court of Claims, the Supervising Judges, the Trial Judges, the Bar Associations, the District Attorneys, the Public Defenders, and the Lawyers who contributed their suggestions, comments, and concerns to this compilation. Special Thanks to Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Vito Caruso, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George Silver, and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Edwina Mendelson for their outstanding leadership, assistance, and guidance throughout these difficult times.

The entire 34-page guide is available on the Brooklyn Bar Association website.