Virtual court proceedings will continue in New Jersey even after the pandemic ends, the state Supreme Court said in a notice issued Nov. 18.
For 18 months, judges have conducted more than 260,000 virtual court events involving more than 2. 7 million participants, and municipal courts have conducted more than 3 million events.
Based on that experience, along with input from judges, attorneys and members of the public, the notice outlined a framework for the future of court operations.
“Attorneys, parties, and judges have praised the reduced time and cost associated with virtual proceedings for brief and straightforward matters. They also noted there are fewer scheduling conflicts and requests for continuances. At the same time, commenters highlighted the value of bringing parties together in person at certain critical junctures, including settlement conferences and proceedings that involve especially serious penalties or consequences. In addition to those considerations, it is important to balance consistency and predictability in court operations with the need to exercise discretion based on the facts and circumstances of individual cases,” the notice signed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said.
The order “contemplates a transition from almost all in-person court proceedings before the pandemic to a future that uses technology to provide expanded options for access, participation, timeliness, and justice,” the Court wrote.
Criminal jury trials, evidence hearings and sentencings will proceed in person. Bench trials, which are trials held in front of a judge without a jury, will be in person unless all parties consent to conducting them virtually. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court and appellate division will also be held in person.
Several civil matters will be held virtually, including landlord-tenant proceedings; small claims trials, and mediations; family matters including uncontested divorces, uncontested adoptions, hearings to establish or modify child support, applications for a temporary restraining order and initial conferences, initial applications for protection pursuant to the Sexual Assault Survivor Protection Act, parent education conferences and mediations; and tax court matters including routine motion arguments, case management conferences and settlement conferences.
In matters that are conducted in person, judges may permit one or more participants to participate virtually based on the individual facts and circumstances of the case; and in terms of virtual cases, judges may accommodate a participant who requests to participate in person.