Local lawyer discusses slight reopening of courts

Updated: May. 7, 2020 at 9:01 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Earlier this week the New York State Unified Court System began to allow the slight reopening of courts around the state.

Local attorney Keith Caughlin of the law firm of Schwerzmann and Wise appeared on 7 News at Noon on Thursday. Watch his interview with anchor Diane Rutherford above.

Caughlin said the Unified Court System closed down hard on March 15 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

That meant all scheduled matters were administratively adjourned, trials and motions were put off, and all evicitons were suspended.

The 5 courts in Jefferson County were closed and centralized at the county court building with judges working from home.

Caughlin said the governor's executive order suspended the statues of limitation, essentially pausing the need to start new lawsuits, which could not be filed anyway becuase the electronic filing system was shutdown.

"Essential matters" were allowed to be considered in each court, but Caughlin said this was a very limited, narrow exception. Regular civil litigation - the disputes lawyers, clients and judges deal with all the time - were considered non-essential.

On May 4, the court system announced a new temporary electronic filing system for county and family courts to allow papers to be filed by email and avoid the contact necessary for paper documents to be filed in the clerk's office, with documents being passed from one person to another.

It also opened up Supreme Court for new motions to be filed on pending cases and the suspended motions to be rescheduled for submission.

The new order does not allow new cases to be filed. Evictions are still suspended.

Caughlin said with email, telephone conferences, Skype appearances, civil litigation is resuming in a remote and safe way.

The electronic filing system is back on and permits lawyers to exchange or file documents in Supreme and Surrogate's Court and the new system has been created for county and family courts.

Caughlin said the changes could wind up becoming standard, which could result in a lower cost for the client.

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