Changes to the New Jersey Courts during the Covid-19 Pandemic
As one could imagine, the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the world has had adverse effects on the New Jersey court system.
As institutions worldwide have been shut down and placed into a holding pattern of remote service, their effectiveness and capacity to serve those they exist to serve have waned substantially. The case is no different for New Jersey courts, which have experienced a startling backlog as government employees attempt to continue serving New Jersey in reaching justice. New Jersey courts have embraced a new normal by opening the state’s courtrooms while abiding by social distancing measures and procedures to ensure proper hygiene.
Jury Trials Resume in September
Jury trials, which resumed sessions in person in September, included particular changes. For example, most jury selection is to occur online. As jurors gather in the courtroom, they are separated by plexiglass, and in some cases, sit in a separate courtroom, watching the trial on a broadcast monitor. The New Jersey Judicial Court System began submitting jury summons again by mail in July. While many of the state’s citizens might express alarm at that request to place oneself in potential harm’s way, the court system has overall implemented well the distancing measures designed to keep people safe. Jury trials implementing the new normal were first executed in the Bergen and Atlantic/Cape May jurisdictions.
As one could imagine, the return to jury trials left many alleged criminals and victims of crimes awaiting the opportunity to seek justice. A representative of the Administrative Office of the Courts noted that almost 4,700 defendants were delayed in receiving the opportunity to defend themselves in trial court due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Criminal trials aren’t even the half of it – a substantial number of civil cases have been postponed or bottlenecked into the system of remote, online hearings.
The Superior Court: Family Part has noticed a particularly steep increase of cases awaiting court review as domestic violence, divorce filings, and changes to custody arrangements or parenting time agreements have risen due to lockdowns that have enclosed people in close quarters and travel restrictions which have made the carrying out of court-ordered custody arrangements impossible for many.
Court Operations – New Jersey Supreme Court and Superior Courts During Covid
With the reopening of courts in New Jersey, the New Jersey Supreme Court and Superior Courts – including the Appellate Division, Law Division, Civil Part; and Chancery Division, General Equity Part – are all under specific guidance regarding Covid-19 procedures moving forward. The many measures – which include requirements that judges, court employees, attorneys, jurors, and litigants disclose if they have received a positive Covid-19 test or begun to show symptoms of the virus – have been set in place to ensure the safety of all involved in New Jersey citizens during the court proceedings. The system is imperfect, but the court system has taken great steps to ensure swift justice and safety of its people, even in the face of a pandemic.
Because providing everyone with a fair and comprehensive trial is an essential right and tenet of New Jersey citizenship. The New Jersey court system has expanded its creativity to make the trial process a diverse and multi-step process. For example, as noted, jurors are screened remotely instead of in-person and selected in person in the presence of the judge, attorneys, and defendant only; cases will occupy multiple courtrooms at a time to allow for social distancing measures to remain in place; only specific and imperative members of the trial will be allowed in the main courtroom at any given time; and other measures.
Question of Equity as Remote Involvement becomes the New Normal.
This has raised the question of equity – as many of the court processes move to remote as part of the new normal, how can the state ensure that all citizens, who have the right and duty to serve as a juror, have access to the technology and internet access required for such a transition to remote justice? Is there real justice involved in that? The state has addressed this barrier head-on by making an $800,000 investment in computer technology and internet networks to New Jersey’s courts so that potential jurors can move forward in the process, whether or not they have access to the internet at home.
Contact a Passaic County, NJ Criminal and Personal Injury Law Firm During the Pandemic Today
At The Montanari Law Group, our criminal and personal injury attorneys’ team supports clients across Wayne, Paterson, Clifton, West Milford, Woodland Park, Little Falls, and Passaic County in protecting their right to a fair and swift trial.
To meet with a member of our firm today to discuss your case, please (973) 233-4396 to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our knowledgeable attorneys today.