By: Hadassa Kalatizadeh
Monday June 22 was the first day of phase 2 reopening of New Jersey criminal and civil courts. Business is not back to normal, however, as most proceeding will be conducted remotely. The public at large is still not permitted to enter the court rooms, even in cases that directly concern them. Both superior court and municipal court sessions, as well as criminal and civil cases will continue through internet video sessions from remote settings.
As reported by NJ.com, phase two invites 10 to 15 percent of judges and staff to be onsite. Precautions including wearing masks in non-private areas and maintaining social distancing are still required. The first phase of reopening, on June 9, only returned 5 percent of judges and staff to courtrooms. “The judiciary will continue to provide information and guidance to attorneys, litigants, and members of the public regarding the status of our court facilities and operations,” Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts said in a statement.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and the New Jersey Courts Post-Pandemic Planning committees are coordinating the reopening process. Phase 2 will likely include starting up: jury trials that were suspended, sentencings, guilty pleas, violations of monitoring, and violations of probation for defendants in custody. Also, Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) or hearings where there is no consent to proceed remotely will start up. Some exceptions will be made for conducting onsite sessions.
The timing and procedures for phase 3 and 4 reopening have not yet been announced and will depend on how well things progress with the reopening and if there is a resurgence of the coronavirus. Governor Phil Murphy has said Stage 3 may come in “weeks”, provided that the spread of the pandemic continues to slow. “I think this is a question of weeks and not months,” Gov. Murphy said on Monday when asked for a date for ‘Stage 3’. “I hope we’ll be giving more some more guidance on some steps even as much as later this week.” Stage 3 would be the final stage before finally entering a “new normal”, as Murphy’s administration describes it. A widely available treatment or vaccine for Covid-19 would prompt the end of stage 3.
The state of New Jersey was hard hit by the coronavirus. New Jersey has suffered 169,415 total documented cases of the novel disease, and has a reported death toll of 12,895, as of Monday as per Johns Hopkins data.