The Supreme Court of New Jersey has approved a plan to resume in-person court operations beginning June 22, as the Administrative Office of the Courts (“AOC”) enters “Phase 2” of its COVID response plan.
The following criminal matters “may” resume in-person appearances beginning June 22: Completion of suspended jury trials (5 such trials statewide), with the consent of all attorneys and parties and approval of the Chief Justice; sentencings, guilty pleas, and Final Extreme Risk Protective Order (“ERPO”) hearings where there is no consent to proceed remotely; violation of monitoring and violation of probation for defendants not in custody; and bench trials and hearings, in the absence of consent to proceed remotely, in criminal matters that are especially complex (which the AOC defines as “at a minimum, involving numerous parties or witnesses, or significant evidence in a format that cannot be handled remotely, such as physical evidence or videos in a non-standard format”).
Certain criminal procedures will continue to be held remotely during Phase 2, including: Centralized First Appearance/CJP; motions for pretrial detention, release revocation, and to reopen detention; speedy trial and extradition hearings; violations of monitoring and of probation, for defendants in custody; pretrial and other conferences; bench trials and sentencings with consent; Intensive Supervision Program (ISP) hearings; Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO); pretrial monitoring; and operational matters (e.g., PSI reports).
In Municipal court matters, Phase 2 “may” entail in-person appearances in: bench trials and hearings, in the absence of consent to proceed remotely, in especially complex matters (similarly defined), including DWI trials and other matters involving consequences of magnitude. Remote appearances will continue for disorderly persons (“DP”) and petty disorderly persons (“PDP”) offenses, traffic, DWI dispositions, parking, local ordinance, penalty enforcement and other hearings; First Appearance/CJP; violations of monitoring and probation; bench trials, sentencing hearings, evidentiary hearings, and testimonial motions with consent; guilty pleas; post-adjudication and non-compliance hearings; and dismissals.
In civil matters, in-person bench trials and hearings may go forward in the absence of consent of all parties to proceed remotely, in especially complex matters. Remote appearances will continue in other events such as: Orders to Show Cause (“OTSC”) and returns; bench trials; motions; hearings; case management and other conferences; mediation; arbitration; uncontested guardianship hearings; special medical guardianships; stays of sheriff’s sales and evictions; Special Civil (“DC” docket numbers) and Small Claims (“SC” docket numbers) trials with consent; and involuntary civil commitment initial hearings and reviews.
Supreme Court and Appellate Division arguments and most Tax Court proceedings will continue to be handled remotely.
Courts have been in “Phase 1” of the COVID response plan since mid-March, meaning that court buildings are closed to attorneys and the public, and only 5% of judges and staff are working on-site. In “Phase 2,” beginning June 22, 10-15% of judges and staff will work on-site to conduct in-person appearances in matters which cannot be accommodated remotely. During Phases 3 and 4, on dates have to be determined, courts will gradually open more fully, involving more on-site personal and additional types of appearances, including jury trials.
Chief Justice Rabner also ordered that all persons wear face masks in courthouse public spaces, including courtrooms and elevators. Persons entering courthouses may also be required to submit to thermal scans.