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Essential County Court Matters Go Digital

MAYVILLE — Add essential court matters to the growing list of organizations, governments and school boards that have gone digital during the coronavirus outbreak.

An order handed down late last week by Judge Paula Feroleto of the Eighth Judicial District mandates that all proceedings in Supreme, Surrogate, Family, county, and town and village courts considered essential will be held via Skype. The move for the eight counties that make up the Eighth Judicial District is to “minimize courthouse traffic and contain the spread of the virus,” Feroleto said in a statement.

Though the move to Skype went into effect for most counties Monday, a county court clerk said Chautauqua County began holding virtual court proceedings about two weeks ago. Under the new system, all arraignments during court hours are being handled by Judge John LaMancuso or Judge Stephen Cass via Skype while defendants are at the Chautauqua County Jail, Jamestown City Jail or Dunkirk City Jail.

Central arraignments are no longer being handled by town or village justices at the jail other than after normal court hours, the court clerk said.

“In all essential court proceedings, all parties, attorneys and judges will participate by video conferencing using Skype for Business,” Feroleto said. “In the event of technical issues, telephonic appearances will be permitted for all essential matters other than criminal cases.

“A minimal core team of essential staff will remain at each central courthouse location to ensure the ability to in-take papers, operate video conferencing equipment, process orders, keep the court record, answer telephones and conduct other essential court functions. The virtual courtroom protocols that were developed apply to all categories of essential court functions and have been distributed to stakeholders.”

The March order already limited which matters were going before the courts during the outbreak. Those include arraignments; new and extended orders of protection; urgent juvenile delinquency proceedings; child protective proceedings where there is an imminent risk of harm to a child; urgent family offense matters; emergency support matters; mental hygiene law applications; and urgent guardianship adoption and essential surrogate court cases.

In addition, all orders of protection and temporary orders of protection issued by any criminal, family or civil courts, including Supreme, county, family, city, town and village, were extended 90 days.

All nonessential pending criminal court matters for those arraigned and released on their own recognizance have been adjourned until about April 30. Cases for those who have been arraigned and are in custody have been adjourned until April 15 or later.

All criminal court matters scheduled to be heard for arraignments on appearance tickets in city and town courts have been adjourned until April 30 or later. Defendants will be notified of future court dates.

Furthermore, no eviction orders will be granted by any city, town or village justice court; no default judgements will be granted; and no foreclosure auctions will be held.

Many organizations — including city councils, town boards, village boards and school boards, as well as church services — have gone digital to promote social distancing amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Groups have turned to Skype, Facebook Live and Zoom to broadcast meetings or services to the public.

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