COVID-19: NJ Courts Announce Phased Reopening Plan

After almost one-hundred days of fully remote proceedings and argument, the New Jersey courts are set to reopen with several COVID-19 safety measures in place. Starting this Monday, June 22, state courthouses throughout New Jersey will begin the incremental implementation of Phase 2 of the New Jersey Courts Post-Pandemic Plan (the “Plan”). The Plan is part of an order issued by the New Jersey Supreme Court on June 10.

Phase 2 of the Plan (“Phase 2”) is presented as a “gradual and limited” return. June 22 will start with 10-15% of judges and staff onsite for “certain matters” that cannot proceed remotely. These certain matters will be determined by the Supreme Court, but examples could include matters where the parties do not consent to proceed remotely or those where the presiding judge determines it is necessary to proceed in-person.

Before court personnel can resume onsite work, all employees will receive mandatory orientation/training with an emphasis on COVID-19 safety. Additionally, appropriate COVID-19 cleaning policies will be implemented in coordination with both treasury and county-based partners. At courthouse points of entry, expect to see (i) posted screening questions; (ii) signs advising of thermal scanning and a requirement that all entrants wear masks; and (iii) hygiene stations installed past securing screening. Importantly, litigants, judges, staff members and other court visitors will have to stay six feet apart in non-private areas.

While the beginning of Phase 2 represents somewhat of a return to normalcy, court events that are successfully being handled remotely will continue to be handled remotely during Phase 2. Specifically enumerated civil proceedings that will continue to be handled remotely include, but are not limited to: (i) Orders to Show Cause (“OTSC”) and returns on OTSC; (ii) bench trials; (iii) motions; (iv) hearings; (v) case management and other conferences; (vi) mediation; and (vii) arbitration, among other things. Additionally, Supreme Court and Appellate Division arguments will conducted to be handled remotely.

Phase 3 includes “new operations,” which will incorporate ongoing remote operations with gradually increasing onsite events, eventually including new jury trials and 50-75% of judges and staff onsite (with staggered schedules).

Phase 4 is the “ongoing model,” which will be New Jersey courts “new normal.” This phase will begin once a vaccine is available and/or herd immunity is established. It will anticipate 75-80% of judges and staff onsite.

The Plan is dynamic; thus, it requires consistent monitoring of COVID-19 trends and flare-ups in any area. These trends will determine the courts’ readiness to move into progressing phases and of course, revert to more limited operations if it becomes unsafe for judges, staff, or other court personnel.

Remotely or in-person, our litigation attorneys remain committed to zealously advocating for our clients. Our entire TEAM has been primarily working remotely since March 17, with no interruption at all to our capacity to prosecute, defend, and resolve adverse proceedings.

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