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In The Courts Recent News

Supreme Court Order Authorizes Remote Civil Jury Trials


Civil jury trials will return in a virtual format on a limited and temporary basis, under a Supreme Court order issued on January 7, 2021.

The Court’s order directs virtual civil trials to begin on or after Feb. 1 in eight of New Jersey’s 21 counties.

Initial trials will require consent of both parties and will involve straightforward, single-witness cases that can be completed within a few weeks.

Virtual jury trials will expand statewide on or after April 5, with consent from the parties no longer required because of the expected length of the continued health threat posed by COVID-19.

Civil trials have been delayed in New Jersey since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, leaving countless civil litigants unable to resolve important disputes.

The order, signed by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, states: “Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Judiciary has been committed to provide a forum for the fair adjudication of disputes and to safeguard public health.

The pandemic required the court system to consider new ways to respond to the needs of the public and administer justice. The Supreme Court’s response has included temporarily authorizing virtual formats for various court events that cannot safely be conducted in person at this time.”

The order acts on a report issued in November by the Judiciary’s Post-Pandemic Planning Committee on Resuming Jury Trials, which sought advance input from the New Jersey State Bar Association, the New Jersey Association for Justice, the New Jersey Defense Association, the state Department of Law and Public Safety, and other stakeholders.

The Court received and considered 45 public comments in response to the Committee’s proposal and incorporated some of those suggestions into its order.

The order establishes two phases for the resumption of jury trials in all civil case types.

In the first phase, civil jury trials will be conducted remotely in the vicinages of Atlantic/Cape May, Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem, Monmouth, Passaic, and Union.

To the extent possible, virtual civil jury trials will begin with cases involving a single plaintiff, a single defendant, a limited number of issues in dispute, and a modest number of live witnesses.

Consent to proceed in a virtual format may be withdrawn no later than the 10th day before jury selection in a given matter.

The second phase, expanding virtual civil jury trials statewide, will continue for as long as necessary based on the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order establishes standards for how trials should be conducted.

Pretrial conferences will address whether the judge, attorneys, and parties will be present in a courtroom or whether any or all of them will participate remotely.

It also will address methods for presenting evidence.

Jurors will participate remotely during trial.

An accompanying directive issued by Administrative Director Glenn A. Grant provides additional guidance on electronic evidence.

To minimize public health risks, jurors also will not be brought into the courthouse for the in-person phase of selection.

Judges will be encouraged to be more permissive in allowing attorneys to participate during virtual voir dire.

Additional alternate jurors also will be chosen – beyond the number ordinarily selected for a jury trial conducted in person.

The Judiciary will provide standard technology and technical assistance, as needed, to jurors summoned for the selection process and to all empaneled jurors.

The Court may modify the protocols for conducting virtual civil jury trials based on updated public health recommendations, including recommended changes in occupancy limits for indoor gatherings.

Health-related factors will be considered in scheduling cases for trial dates.

Cases involving healthcare professionals who are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic will not proceed.

Jurors who supply a doctor’s note substantiating that they are unable to serve based on an ongoing medical condition will be excused before reporting for virtual selection, just as they were pre-pandemic.

Public access to the first virtual civil jury trials will be provided by live broadcast without showing images of jurors. Access to later trials will be provided through Zoom invitations or other means.

Since March 16, 2020, judges at all levels of the New Jersey courts have conducted more than 120,000 remote court events involving more than 1.45 million participants.

During the same period, attorneys have developed expertise in participating in virtual proceedings.

In addition, with training and support from the Judiciary, more than 500 New Jersey residents have served as jurors in hybrid trials and virtual grand jury panels, using their own technology or technology provided by the courts.

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Bright Side In The Courts

NJ Judiciary Drug Court Participant Has Urgent Reason to Interrupt Session

A week before Christmas, Desmond Causey-Jones reported virtually for his drug court session as usual, but behind the scene an urgent event was about to unfold.

Just 10 minutes into the session, Causey-Jones interrupted Superior Court Judge Jeffrey J. Waldman with an important message, telling the judge he needed to sign off.

“I apologize for interrupting, but our daughter’s coming out,” Causey-Jones recalled informing Judge Waldman.

Causey-Jones had delivered his apology from the restroom of his girlfriend’s hospital room at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point.

Thirty-five minutes later, Jade Aaliyah Ruth Jones was born.

While nearly 800 babies have been born to drug court participants since the program’s inception in 1996, little Jade’s arrival during her father’s session left a big impression.

Judge Waldman, the recovery court judge in the Atlantic/Cape May Vicinage, said he was struck by Causey-Jones’ dedication.

“This was meaningful on a number of levels. First, this participant has taken his recovery so seriously that when offered a pass from his court session, he decided to participate, nonetheless.

On a more personal level, we as a recovery court team are flattered that of anyone he could have possibly chosen to bring into the delivery area with him, he chose us.

It was moving beyond belief to all of us who were there,” Judge Waldman said.

Only Causey-Jones’ probation officer knew that his girlfriend, Niciaya Jones, had been in labor for two days by the time his bi-weekly session came around on Dec. 17.

The probation officer had given him permission to skip that session.

“I knew regardless I was going to go on there, just to show my face. Especially during the pandemic, you gotta show your face on there so they know you’re doing alright. I enjoy going on there. You get to talk a lot and get stuff off your chest,” Causey-Jones said.

Causey-Jones first got into trouble with the law as a teen. After his father was killed 13 years ago, Causey-Jones started selling drugs and became addicted to alcohol. He was arrested for possessing and distributing heroin.

Now a father of three, Causey-Jones said it was his middle child – his 5-year-old son – who inspired him to work hard at his recovery. He said he knew he would have ended up in prison for a long time if it hadn’t been for drug court.

“My son changed me because when my father got murdered, I was basically roaming the streets by myself, no guidance, nothing like that. And I don’t want my son growing up without a father,” Causey-Jones said.

Now sober for nearly three years, he said drug court taught him, among other things, to consider the consequences of his decisions. He wants his legacy to his children to be knowledge, not a street name or a criminal record.

“Drug court’s always been on my side,” Causey-Jones said. “They never gave up on me and I appreciate drug court for that.”

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In The Courts Recent News

New Jersey Judiciary Continues to Expand Its Electronic Filing System


Nearly 200,000 documents have been submitted through the Judiciary’s new electronic filing system since it was first made available this year to accommodate attorneys and self-represented litigants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As of Monday, 197,947 documents were filed through the Judiciary Electronic Document Submission (JEDS) system. More than half of those documents (113,330) were filed in family division cases. Another 44,398 documents were filed for landlord/tenant matters.

Although the JEDS system was in development before the pandemic, it was made available sooner in light of the courts’ suspension of most in-person proceedings and matters to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In the family part, attorneys and self-represented litigants can electronically submit documents related to divorce, post-divorce motions, child custody/parenting time, and child support applications and modifications. JEDS can also be used to submit complaints, answers, and motions for civil, special civil, the law division, criminal division, tax court, chancery, general equity, and foreclosure.

“Our electronic filing system has allowed us to continue the work of the courts on important matters, from child support to landlord/tenant issues, without bringing people into our courthouses,” said Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts. “As COVID-19 continues to change the way our court system must operate, we will continue to look for technological solutions that allow us to conduct court business in an efficient and safe manner.”

To view a tutorial on using the JEDS system, go to njcourts.gov.

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In The Courts Recent News

New Jersey Courts Set to Resume Jury Trials


New Jersey courts are set to resume jury trials after being suspended for more than six months because of Covid-19, under a Supreme Court Order dated September 17, 2020.

The first trial is scheduled to begin in Bergen County on Monday, Sept. 21 with virtual jury selection before Superior Court Judge Robert Vinci. Jury selection will be conducted using a hybrid approach. Voir dire questioning will primarily take place in a virtual format, with technology provided by the Judiciary as needed.

Follow-up questioning and the exercise of peremptory challenges will be conducted in person.

The trial will be conducted in a socially distanced courtroom.

“The decision to resume a limited number of jury trials is motivated by the ongoing restrictions of the rights of criminal defendants, including more than 2,500 defendants who have been indicted and are detained in jail awaiting trial, as well as the rights of victims of crime seeking access to the courts to complete a critical step in their recovery,” said the court in an Order signed by Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. “In addition, the extended delay in the administration of civil justice, including more than 9,000 cases awaiting trial today, also compels the resumption of jury trials.”

More than 200 potential jurors will be questioned virtually over the first several days.

A smaller group of prospective jurors will appear at the Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack on Monday, Sept. 28. New Jersey’s first socially distant, in-person jury trial is expected to begin that same week.

The preparation to return to jury trials already has resulted in the settlement of 10 criminal cases in Bergen County.

“Jury trials are the catalyst for resolving cases, both in criminal and civil matters. The availability of a judge and jury ready to hear a case prompts pleas in criminal matters and settlements in civil cases. In contrast, the unavailability of jury trials removes the impetus for case resolution and stalls the wheels of justice. Countless individuals are adversely affected as a result,” the Court said in its order.

Virtual jury selection is expected to start soon in Atlantic County the week of Sept. 28, Cumberland County the week of Oct. 5 and Mercer and Passaic counties the week of Oct. 19.

To the extent feasible, the first new jury trials will be straightforward criminal cases involving a single detained defendant.

The first several socially distanced inperson jury trials will be livestreamed to the public.

“For more than six months, the New Jersey courts have sustained court operations to the greatest extent possible without jury trials. During that time, public health authorities have confirmed that Covid-19 trends in New Jersey no longer require all residents to stay at home, and those same authorities have issued guidance for how businesses, schools, and other institutions including the courts can safely resume some level of in-person activity.

Guided by the public health experts and recognizing its duty to uphold the rule of law even when it is difficult to do so, the Court authorized the resumption of jury trials,” the Court said in its order.

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Covid-19 In The Courts

Judiciary Initiative Provides Outreach for Landlords and Tenants During Health Crisis

The New Jersey Judiciary has launched an initiative to provide landlords and tenants with information about court operations as well as available services and community resources during the COVID-19 health crisis.

Through this initiative, each of the Judiciary’s 15 court vicinages are sponsoring at least two landlord/tenant community resource webinars throughout the month of August. Among the topics to be discussed are the role of the courts in resolving landlord/tenant matters, the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants, and the pretrial settlement conference process. “The New Jersey Judiciary is a neutral arbitrator in resolving litigation, but we have a responsibility to promote the community collaboration needed to tackle this challenge facing our state. As part of that effort, we have set up this series of seminars in order to provide all parties the information and resources needed to reach the best possible outcome for their cases,” said Judge Glenn A. Grant, acting administrative director of the courts.

A recent webinar kicking off the virtual outreach sessions included representatives from the Judiciary, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Legal Services of New Jersey and the New Jersey Apartment Association. The vicinage seminars will provide information about county-specific services and resources and allows landlords and tenants to ask general questions about how to resolve their cases.

Individual cases will not be discussed. Under an executive order from the Governor, evictions of residential tenants are currently suspended until 60 days after the conclusion of the COVID-19 public health emergency and state of emergencies.

A Supreme Court’s July 14 order prohibits evictions based on nonpayment of rent. The order allows eviction trials to be held only in the event of the death of a tenant or if the court determines the existence of an emergency, such as documented violence, criminal activity, or other health and safety concerns. Several counties are holding virtual settlement conferences, which also will be offered statewide in the coming weeks.

While all parties are encouraged to participate in the pretrial settlement process, either party can decline to participate without penalty.

A full schedule of webinars is available at njcourts.gov