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From Bad Comes Good:

Pandemic-caused changes to our judicial system may be good for everyone!

Pandemic Changes to the Court System
Will pandemic-caused changes, in the long run, help our judicial system?

The last couple of years have taught everyone in our legal system valuable lessons regarding how we dispense justice to our citizens while keeping our citizens safe and, at the same time, prospectively dispensing with physical court appearances that, in the past, unduly burdened our courts and the clients that paid for same. Accordingly, effective October 27, 2022, our New Jersey Supreme Court, has ordered that the following procedural framework be utilized moving forward:

1. Criminal jury trials shall continue to proceed in person.

2. The following matters will generally proceed in person but may proceed virtually with the consent of all the parties…..

            a. CRIMINAL: bench trials, evidentiary hearings, sentencing hearings, Final Extreme Risk Protective order hearings; and Megan Law hearings;

            b. CIVIL/PROBATE: hearings for adjudication of incapacity and an appointment of a permanent guardian, as of March 1, 2023, initial hearing for involuntary inpatient civil commitment;

            c. FAMILY: termination of parental rights, sentencing hearings, and Juvenile Delinquency (FJ) matters; and

            d. MUNICIPAL: cases involving DWI, refusal to submit to a breathalyzer test, disorderly persons, domestic violence, and other matters that involve a reasonable likelihood of a jail sentence or loss or suspension of license

3. The following matters also will generally proceed in person but may be conducted virtually at the discretion of the court. Consent to proceed virtually is not required.

a. Oral arguments before the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division;

            b. ALL TRIAL DIVISIONS & MUNICIPAL: matters involving numerous attorneys and parties, or substantial documentary evidence; matters that require on-site interpreting services; matters in which a party is failed to appear for, been unable to participate in, or neglected to respect the solemnity of a prior virtual proceeding; and settlement were status conferences in which previous virtual sessions have not meaningfully advance the matters toward resolution or trial;

            c. CRIMINAL: post-indictment arraignments, pretrial and other conferences, plea hearings, non-routine motions, and orientation and phases one and two of Recovery Court;

            d. CIVIL/EQUITY/PROBATE: jury and bench trials, including the Law Division-Civil Part, Special Civil Part, General Equity, and Probate, evidentiary hearings, and settlement conferences;

            e. FAMILY: trials, dispositional hearings, plea hearings, and evidentiary hearings; and

            f. MUNICIPAL: matters that affect health and safety.

4. Absent an individualized reason to proceed in person based on the facts and circumstances of the case, the following matters will continue to be conducted virtually:

            a. In all trial divisions of the Superior Court, the Municipal Court, and the Tax Court: (i) routine case management conferences; and (ii) routine motion arguments.

            b. Involuntary inpatient commitment review hearings and involuntary outpatient commitment hearings; and

            c. Matters in the Municipal Courts that do not involve a reasonable likelihood of a jail sentence or loss or suspension of license.

“What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” Hopefully, in this case, what we’ve learned from what we all collectively experienced since March of 2020 will, in the future, make our judicial system more efficient and more consumer friendly. New Jersey citizens deserve a court system that delivers justice promptly and fairly, without incurring fees for court appearances and in-person meetings that could more effectively be handled virtually. Maybe the pandemic, in the long run, will help our judicial system?

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