The Commercial Division Advisory Council (the “Advisory Council”) has proposed three new amendments to the Commercial Division Rules: (1) a proposed amendment to Rule 1, which will allow counsel to participate in court conferences remotely, via Skype or other videoconferencing technology; (2) a proposed amendment to Rule 6, which will require proportionally spaced 12-point serif-type font in papers filed with the court; and (3) a proposed amendment to repeal Rule 23 (also known as, the “60-Day Rule”), which currently requires litigants to notify the court and other parties whenever a motion has not been decided within 60 days of its submission or oral argument.
The Proposed Amendment to Rule 1
The proposed amendment to Rule 1 will permit counsel to participate in court proceedings from remote locations via videoconference. According to the Advisory Council, the proposed amendment “is consistent with the commercial division’s mission to improve efficiency and productivity, eliminate delays, and provide better service to the public” by, among other things, encouraging the avoidance of wasteful attorney travel. The new proposed subsection (d) states:
Counsel may request the court’s permission to participate in court conferences and oral arguments of motions from remote locations through use of videoconferences or other technologies. Such requests will be granted in the court’s discretion for good cause shown; however, nothing contained in this subsection (d) is intended to limit any rights which counsel may otherwise have to participate in court proceedings by appearing in person.
The proposed amendment does not require counsel to participate in court proceedings from remote locations, and therefore avoids placing any burden on lawyers who lack the technical resources to participate from remote locations. Moreover, the proposed amendment is limited to court conferences and oral arguments of motions, and is not intended to address the more complex subject of testimony by witnesses at trials or other evidentiary hearings.
Videoconferencing is not a novel concept in the Commercial Division. Last year, my colleague Viktoriya Liberchuk reported on Justice Scarpulla’s implementation of videoconferencing technology in her courtroom, including the use of Skype for oral argument and other court conferences. Videoconferencing is also frequently used in other courts, such as the United States circuit courts, and the First and Second Departments. For example, the Second Department has installed Skype-equipped large screen computers in both its courtroom and consult room, and has started to use Skype for arguments of appeals and motions.
In fact, a Report of a Survey of Videoconferencing in the Courts of Appeals revealed that the benefits of videoconferencing may outweigh the disadvantages. In that study, many of the appellate court judges who were interviewed cited the following advantages of videoconferencing:
- Saves travel time and expense;
- Allows for scheduling flexibility;
- Reduces the administrative burden on the courts;
- Decreases litigation costs;
- Increases access to courts for marginalized litigants whose in-person appearance might otherwise be prohibitively expensive or constitute a hardship; and
- Allows the court to make special accommodations for judges who may be ill or unable to travel.
Are there any disadvantages to videoconferencing? Obviously some technical difficulties may occur. But even so, technical difficulties are usually minor, easily resolved, and infrequent. Other disadvantages may include decreased personal interactions and “quality of the argument experience.” But, the judges who were interviewed indicated no difference in their understanding of the legal issues in arguments that were video conferenced. In fact, one appellate judge even stated that “Videoconferencing is the wave of the future.”
Videoconferencing may prove to be convenient and cost-efficient for many litigators because it enables lawyers and their clients to save time and money. In the words of the Advisory Council:
The proposed amendment presents an opportunity for the Commercial Division to continue its innovation and leadership in the smart adoption of technology in aid of the efficient administration of justice. The proposed rule confers sufficient discretion on individual Justices to permit participation in court proceedings from remote locations in a way that makes sense for their particular docket, and is calculated to avoid any burden or prejudice to the few lawyers who might not want to use this technology.
Proposed Amendment to Rule 6
A proposed amendment to Rule 6 of the Commercial Division Rules will require proportionally spaced 12-point serif type font in all papers filed with the court. Rule 6 currently provides that all papers filed with the court shall comply with CPLR 2101 and 22 NYCRR 202.5(a), contain print no smaller than 12-point font, and footnotes no smaller than 10-point font. But, like CPLR 2101 and 22 NYCRR 202.5(a), Rule 6 is silent as to the particular style of typeface.
Well, apparently some studies have shown that larger point typeface and use of proportionally spaced serif typeface enhances readability, improves comprehension and retention of long passages of text, and makes it easier for the eye to quickly and easily distinguish letters. For those unfamiliar with typefaces, Serif typefaces are those that have little extensions, or “serifs” at the ends of the strokes of the letters. By contrast, “sans-serifs” do not have the added stroke. Some styles of proportionally spaced serif typeface include: Times New Roman, Century Schoolbook, Georgia, and Bookman.
According to the Advisory Council, larger point font and proportionally-spaced serif typeface “would assist the Commercial Division Justices and their staff in dealing with the arduous task of reading and retaining the content of tens of thousands of pages each year, which presumably would lead to greater efficiency.”
Proposed Amendment to Repeal Rule 23
The last proposed amendment to the Commercial Division Rules seeks to repeal Rule 23 in its entirety. Rule 23, also known as, the “60-Day Rule,” currently requires movant’s counsel to notify the court and other parties whenever a motion has not been decided within 60 days of its submission or oral argument. The Advisory Council proposes repealing this rule for three reasons:
- First, the rule puts attorneys in the difficult and sometimes awkward position of reminding judges of their failure to render a decision and, therefore, is rarely followed;
- Second, an analogous rule applicable more broadly in the Supreme and County court (see 22 NYCRR 202.8[h]) was rescinded in 2006; and
- Third, most judges already receive notice of unresolved motions through other channels, such as the Office of Court Administration.
Those who wish to comment on these proposals should e-mail their submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org or write to: John W. McConnell, Esq., Counsel, Office of Court Administration, 25 Beaver Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10004.
Comments to the proposed amendment to Rule 1 must be received by September 30, 2019. Comments to the proposed amendment to Rule 6 must be received by October 25, 2019. Comments to the proposed amendment to repeal Rule 23 must be received by November 1, 2019.