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Conference Memorandum of the BCBA August Bench-Bar Committee Meeting

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.

There are many common procedural safeguards and procedures in place regarding in person appearances.  For instance all access to the Bergen County Courthouse will be through 2 Bergen Plaza.  Face masks/coverings are required.  A thermal temperature scan will be conducted with no one registering over 100.4 temperature being admitted.  Upon entrance you will be met by a Bergen County “concierge,” who will escort you to your assigned courtroom.  Specific bathrooms will be assigned.  Social distancing must be adhered to in the common areas.  Arrows will direct lanes of travel in the hallways.  Elevators, depending upon size, will be limited from 1 to 4 people at a time.

In the courtroom, face coverings must be worn if you are less than 6 feet from another individual.  Judges have discretion to determine whether face coverings may be removed.  Hand sanitizer, gloves, and clear face shields will be provided if needed while in the courtroom.

Most matters, including criminal, in the Bergen County Courthouse will continue using the zoom/online platform as of now.  Cases that receive the approval by Assignment Judge Mizdol will be handled live in the courtroom.  We can expect in-person trials to begin in September.  We will begin straightforward single-defendant criminal trials, and expedited or track 2 civil trials soon afterwards.  The selection process for these cases shall be coordinated among the assignment judge, presiding judges, trial judges, division managers, trial court administrator, and operations manager.

The general assignment order has approved the reassignment of Judge Vinci to the Civil Division and Judge Steinhart to Drug Court.  The changes are likely to occur as of January 1, 2021.

For in-person court dates involving live testimony or as circumstances may require, you will be allowed entry upon appointment with the court to preview the courtroom setup in-person and to resolve concerns prior to the appearance.

The new jury assembly room (Room 210) will likely be used as the jury selection room during COVID-19.  The jury selection process will be hybrid: the first part will be conducted using zoom and the second part will involve pre-emptory and for-cause challenges to be done live in the courtroom.

November will begin the new virtual grand jury panel selection.

Family Law Practice matters discussed included: (A) amended motion return dates; (see recent notice from BCBA); (B) use of e-mails to Judge’s law clerks rather than primary reliance upon phone numbers as published in the BCBA annual directories; (C) continuation of domestic violence final hearings by way of Zoom (note printed procedures available from Judge Medina and Judge Janeczko; (D) Judge Bottinelli has returned to active duty and is conducting remote divorce trials; (E) both Judges and attorneys seem to be adjusting to remote management conferences, remote settlement conferences, remote motion arguments, Early Settlement Panels and economic mediation sessions.

In other news, the Association has started a program, starting with family law, to introduce those law clerks seeking employment with firms looking to hire.  This program will be extended to the civil law clerks.

New law clerks will be starting on  August 25 and will work with the outgoing law clerks through August 31.  Motion days have been adjusted to allow the new law clerks time for preparation and attendance at the bar exam.  Please review the schedule which the Association has provided.