Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fourth Department has demonstrated its commitment to public health and safety by offering litigants the option to argue their appeals remotely, minimizing the need for close contact. This unique accommodation allowed both those affected by COVID-19 and those with health concerns to engage in oral arguments safely. Justices who were affected by the pandemic also participated remotely, showcasing the Court's adaptability.

To facilitate these hybrid oral arguments, the Fourth Department's Technology Services Unit strategically installed small monitors on the bench and positioned cameras to ensure seamless interaction between in-person and remote participants. This innovative approach saw 60% of litigants choosing remote arguments and 40% opting for in-person appearances during the pandemic.

Building on the success of this initiative, the Fourth Department initiated a pilot program in February 2023 to assess the viability of a continued hybrid argument model beyond health and safety concerns. Over three consecutive terms, litigants were offered the choice to argue either in-person or remotely, mirroring the pandemic's height. During this period, the Court received feedback from litigants who engaged in this model, and responses were overwhelmingly positive.

Some notable responses from litigants:

  • "Keep the remote option!"
  • "The hybrid oral argument pilot program is fantastic... It will save the Court, litigants, and the Counties so much money."
  • "This is a much preferable method of communication... in a safe and efficient manner."
  • "Residing in Chautauqua County, I especially appreciate the option to appear remotely for oral argument. This accommodation saves me over 5 hours of travel."

The Court also noted a decrease in the percentage of litigants who opted to submit their arguments rather than argue, demonstrating the effectiveness of the hybrid model in encouraging participation.

The Fourth Department's dedication to providing an efficient and adaptable appellate process has led to the continuation of hybrid oral arguments for the Fall 2023 terms. The data collected during the pilot period supports this decision, showcasing the effectiveness of this model in ensuring accessibility, convenience, and robust participation.

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The Supreme Court of the Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department hears appeals from the state's trial courts located in the 22 Central and Western New York counties assigned to the Fifth, Seventh, and Eighth Judicial Districts. More »

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