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The Supreme Court has provided additional guidance on the first new jury trials to resume since the mid-March suspension of trials resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. As detailed in the Court’s July 22, 2020 Order and appended Plan for Resuming Jury Trials, new jury trials will be conducted in a hybrid format involving primarily virtual selection followed by socially distanced in-person trials.

The Court’s attached September 17, 2020 Order emphasizes that the resumption of jury trials is necessary to protect the rights of criminal defendants, including more than 2,500 indicted defendants who are detained awaiting trial, and for litigants in more than 9,000 ready civil cases. As with all aspects of COVID-19 court operations, the New Jersey courts will resume hybrid jury trials in a manner that supports the health and safety of all court users.

The Court’s September 17, 2020 Order clarifies and supplements the provisions of the Court’s July 22, 2020 Order as follows:

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced the New Jersey courts to suspend jury trials in mid-March 2020. Since the onset of the public health crisis, the Supreme Court has authorized temporary modifications to jury operations in order to safely resume criminal and civil jury trials as necessary to protect the rights of the people of New Jersey. This notice provides a comprehensive update on the rollout of hybrid jury trials, which will include primarily virtual selections and socially distanced in-person trials, and answers questions posed by attorneys and jurors.

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The New Jersey courts currently are conducting limited on-site court proceedings, with in-person socially distanced jury trials scheduled to begin in late September 2020. Consistent adherence to public health requirements remains critical to supporting the health and safety of all court users. At the same time, attorneys and clients must have appropriate methods to communicate with the judge and privately during in-person court proceedings. To that end, this notice provides a list of approved options for sidebar communications and confidential attorney-client communications during jury trials and other on-site proceedings. Additional options may be considered on a case-by-case basis, with court approval, taking into consideration facilities and individual participant needs (including language access services and ADA accommodations).

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As of this date we would like to update you on COVID-19 procedures and information regarding the partial reopening of the courthouse. Please note the following:

  • We are currently in Phase 2 of statewide reopening and, in accordance with the guidelines, 15% of the courthouse staff are in the courthouse buildings.
  • The courthouse is not currently open to the public for all proceedings. We will keep you informed of a projected opening date as we receive information.
  • Probation and drug court litigants are being seen and drug testing is being done by appointment.
  • Virtual Grand Jury continues.
  • Numerous virtual proceedings in Family, Civil, Chancery, and Criminal take place on a daily basis. We have received very favorable responses from attorneys who have commented on the efficiency of these proceedings.
  • Criminal trials and Civil trials will start on a very limited basis at the end of September.
  • Municipal court is working well and efficiently using virtual platforms.
  • There is no start date for Phase 3 at this time, wherein up to 50% of staff will be allowed in the courthouse building.

There have been major safety and health measures taken with respect to the reopening:

  • When entering the courthouse building there are thermal scanners in place. If you have a temperature of 100.4 or higher, you will NOT be permitted to enter the building.
  • Signage is placed throughout the courthouse with instructions on social distancing and wearing a mask in all public areas. Please bring your mask if you plan on coming to the courts.
  • Touchless hand sanitizer units have been placed in all hallways for public use.
  • Public intake areas are having plexiglass barriers installed.
  • Efforts are underway by the county to change all the bathroom faucets and toilets “no touch” systems.
  • Disinfectant wipe downs of all touch areas i.e. doorknobs, elevator buttons etc. are being done nightly by the county.
  • Social distancing floor stickers are being placed on the floor at all entrances and customer service areas to facilitate social distancing.

We will continue to provide you with updates in the future. I wish to thank your President, Joseph Maurice and your Executive Executive Director, Frank O’Marra, for their efforts to bring updated information to the Bergen Bar members.

NOTICE: Bergen County Courthouse COVID-19 Protocols.pdf

As the court continues to explore and investigate ways to assist counsel and litigants in bringing their civil cases to a conclusion, in light of the continuing complication of the pandemic, the Civil Presiding Judge is initiating an initiative utilizing the Complimentary Dispute Resolution (CDR) technique known as “Baseball Arbitration.” Presiding Judge Polifroni observes that the court’s prior recommendation that parties waive jury trials and submit to bench trials has not proved popular with the Bar. However, it is the court’s belief that the parties may be more comfortable in submitting the dispute to a judge, without a jury, if there are specific parameters to the potential result. Read More

NOTICE TO THE BAR

From Bergen County Assignment Judge, Bonnie J. Mizdol, A.J.S.C 

In order to streamline the process and make Early Disposition Court (EDC) efficient and effective, I have determined to issue the following directive:

With regard to discovery, in accordance with R.3:13-3a, the prosecutor shall “provide all available relevant material” in the case two weeks prior to the EDC date. For the Special Victim Unit (SVU) cases, the EDC date shall occur six (6) weeks from the date defendant appears in Central Judicial Processing (CJP) Court. For all other cases, the EDC date shall occur four (4) weeks from the CJP date. The prosecutor’s plea offer shall accompany discovery. Defendant’s counter-offer, if any, shall be provided to the prosecutor within one (1) week of receipt of the plea offer, provided discovery has been exchanged. The parties shall engage in ongoing discussions of the case prior to the EDC date. Judiciary staff shall send a communication to the attorneys within three days of the EDC date seeking confirmation that the steps outlined above have been taken. A checklist indicating whether the tasks have been accomplished shall be placed in the EDC file.

If defendant wishes to enter a plea, but defense counsel requires additional time to discuss the details of the plea with the defendant, the EDC judge shall have the discretion to grant a one week adjournment. To the greatest extent possible, the plea documentation should be filled out prior to the EDC court session. Where appropriate, with the consent of the parties, the EDC judge shall facilitate the settlement of cases by engaging in discussions with the parties. Any such case conferenced by the EDC judge shall be retained by the judge for sentencing. Currently, EDC sentences are assigned to other judges; that process shall continue. The EDC judge will sentence only those cases conferenced by that judge.

This directive shall take effect immediately.

Early Disposition Court (EDC).pdf

Our Criminal Part judges continue to handle criminal matters by utilizing technology to enable the parties to appear remotely.

I have assigned our Criminal Part judges to handle emergent matters for the months of September and October as set forth in the schedule listed below.  Of course, this schedule is subject to any Phase changes that may be implemented.

The schedule is as follows:

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The Bergen County Judiciary, in conjunction with the New Jersey Judiciary, is continuing to take preventive measures to reduce risks of exposure to and transmission of the COVID-19 coronavirus.  We continue to handle as many matters as possible by telephone, Zoom or Teams platforms.  However, during Phase II of operations certain in-person proceedings are being scheduled.

This is a reminder, especially during the peak of the vacation season, that should you have an in-person proceeding scheduled and have travelled to a quarantine impacted state as contained on New Jersey’s updated Quarantine Advisory, it is incumbent upon you to inform the court as soon as possible to allow for an appropriate quarantine time period.

Please know that you will not be permitted entry into the courthouse facilities until the required 14 day quarantine period has expired from the time of your last contact within the identified state.

We are being vigilant in our efforts to ensure the safety of all in the courthouse.  Therefore, in addition to the disclosure of travel to an impacted state, you have an obligation to disclose whether you have experienced:

  1. Fever (A Temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater);
  2. Symptoms (Cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chills, sore throat, muscle aches and pains, loss of taste or smell, any other unexplained illness);
  3. Close contact with anyone who has exhibited any of these symptoms; or
  4. Whether someone in your household or someone you have been in close contact that has tested positive for COVID-19 (Close contact with an infected person means within 6 feet for 10 minutes or more).

Your cooperation in keeping our courthouse safe for all who enter is much appreciated.

/s/ Bonnie J. Mizdol, A.J.S.C.

Dated: August 26, 2020

August 13, 2020 Bench Bar Conference

On August 13, 2020, Judge Mizdol met with the executive officers and substantive committee chairs of the Bergen County Bar Association for a Bench Bar Conference.

These conferences provide for the exchange of information and ideas between our members and our Bergen County Judiciary and we appreciate the continuation of this program.

During the recent meeting with Judge Mizdol, she explained the great efforts that she and the Bergen Judiciary are making to enable attorneys and litigants to return to the Courthouse.  The efforts include, but are not limited to, courtroom layouts, safety and sanitary measures, social distancing requirements, courtroom logistics meaning what courtrooms can accommodate what cases, and protection of staff, attorneys, litigants, and judges.  We should all be aware that the courthouse has gone through a thorough cleaning process in order to ensure everyone’s safety.

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