In our last “Check the Rules” post back in December, we noted the recent additions to the Manhattan Commercial Division bench, Justices Andrew Borrok and Joel M. Cohen, and promised to report back in early 2019 on any notable practice rules in their respective Parts.

My colleague Viktoriya Liberchuk’s perceptive post last week on the recent trend in the Commercial Division (and beyond) to formally encourage in-court “at bats” for young lawyers cited two specific rules from the newly-published “Practices and Procedures” for both Justice Borrok and Justice Cohen, both of whom encourage and even incentivize the “less senior attorney” or the “lawyer out of law school for five years or less” to argue motions before them.

In addition to advocating for the development of junior associates, Justice Borrok’s individual practice rules also suggest that he’s an advocate for the use of technology in the practice of law, or at least in his Part.  In his one and only published decision in 2019 thus far, Ostro v Ostro, Justice Borrok twice ordered the parties to comply with the court’s e-filing procedures, which is the subject of an entire section of his practice rules entitled “Electronic Filing.”

Justice Borrok has a handful of other techie practice rules worthy of note:

Be sure to “bookmark” your briefs and “hyperlink” your references to case law, etc.  Justice Borrok requires strict adherence to the requirement in Commercial Division Rule 6 that all briefs “shall include bookmarks providing a listing of the document’s contents and facilitating easy navigation by the reader within the document.”  He also “strongly encourages” the use of hyperlinks within documents submitted to the court.

Make sure you’re registered for “eTrack.”  As noted in Justice Borrok’s practice rules, as well as in the New York State Unified Court System’s description of the service, “eTrack is a case tracking service which enables you to track active Civil Supreme Court cases from all 62 counties of New York State.”  Justice Borrok requires that “parties and/or their counsel” litigating in his Part be registered for eTrack.

Check in at the “kiosk” outside the courtroom before appearing for a conference.  There’s a kiosk located near the courtroom entrance of Part 53.  Counsel are required to check in by entering the index number of their case, select and print the appropriate conference form(s), and fill them out before entering the courtroom.  By the way, be sure to set specific discovery dates in your proposed conference orders.  Open-ended “within 45 days”-type deadlines won’t cut it.

Submit your trial documents on a “flash drive.”  If you’re headed to trial before Justice Borrok, be sure to submit all your trial documents — including marked pleadings, prior decisions, notices to admit, deposition transcripts, and the like — “via flash drive prior to the hearings or start of trial.”

Be sure to check back with us in the coming months for notable decisions coming out of the newly-constituted Parts 3 and 53 in the Manhattan Commercial Division.

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Tired of printing hundreds of thousands of documents and carrying numerous boxes of documents to court? The New York Commercial Division has heard your cry.  The New York Law Journal  reported that the Commercial Division courts are committed to utilizing technology to help make litigation efficient and more user friendly. The Commercial Division hopes to utilize innovative and advanced technology to efficiently adjudicate, among others, complex commercial matters. The benefits are bountiful as they will be valuable to lawyers, judges, and jurors.

In October, innovative technology made its debut in Justice Saliann Scarpulla’s courtroom in the New York County Commercial Division. In addition to Justice Scarpulla’s Part Rules, which require all cases be electronically filed and all documents text-searchable, Justice Scarpulla’s courtroom now contains an “86-inch screen to display documents, a podium with a document viewer and a USB port and small screens for attorneys and the judge.”   The new 86-inch screen permits attorneys to highlight and mark up documents. It also allows attorneys to scan documents while at the podium during trial, which helps to avoid unnecessary emergencies and courtroom delays.  Additionally, in an effort to protect client confidentiality, the courtroom contains a separate USB port for attorneys to use if their documents are highly sensitive so that they cannot be accessed through the court’s Wi-Fi. This new technology also permits attorneys to attend conferences via Skype, thus conserving time and expense.

In addition to the 86-inch display screen, the jury box in the courtroom was expanded and is now wheelchair accessible and offers technological assistance to jurors who are hearing or vision impaired. Similarly, jurors will no longer be inundated with reams of documents, as this new technology permits attorneys to provide jurors with a flash drive to access and review the documents in a more efficient matter.  In that regard, Justice Scarpulla stated that “we can promise a juror that they’re not going to be here for six months looking through documents.”  All of these technological improvements will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the willingness of people to serve as jurors and significantly impact efficiency in the courtroom.

“We think it’s important to have the right technology to give the business community in New York the sense that we could compete with the best courts in the world,” Justice Scarpulla opined.  Justice Scarpulla’s courtroom is the first, of what will hopefully be many New York courtrooms, to utilize this innovative technology that will make New York courts a much more desirable venue to handle complex commercial disputes.

The Commercial Division has initiated other changes that reflect its efforts to increase efficiency through technology.  For example, the Commercial Division promulgated Rule 11-e(f), which went into effect on October 1, 2018, encouraging parties to “use the most efficient means to review documents, including electronically stored information.” This new Rule, which addresses the use of technology-assisted review in the discovery process was discussed at length in Kathryn Cole’s blog, titled Important Update for Those Who Practice in the Commercial Division of the NYS Supreme Courts.

As technology pervades the legal profession, it is crucial that practitioners stay current with the changing technological landscape moving forward. Make sure you stay up-to-date with judge’s part rules and changes in the Commercial Division that we are certain to see in the future.

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*** Attention all Queens County commercial litigators: If you have a case before Judge Grays, be sure to bring an HDMI cable and a USB drive with you to court from now on! ***

One of the themes that we’ve developed on this blog over the years has been the implementation of technology in the courts of the Commercial Division, as well in the rules that govern the practice of law in those courts.

We’ve regularly reported on such developments in the context of the individual practice rules of certain Commercial Division judges, as well as in certain NYSBA-sponsored events showcasing the new Integrated Courtroom Technology (or “ICT”) program in the Commercial Division, including in Westchester County (Walsh, J.) in June 2018 and New York County (Scarpulla, J.) in April 2019.

This past Tuesday, members of ComFed’s Committee on the Commercial Division (including Hamutal Lieberman and yours truly from this blog), along with Queens County Commercial Division Justice Marguerite A. Grays, presented a similar program called “The Electronic Courtroom: Using Integrated Courtroom Technology,” which took place in Justice Grays’s beautiful, oak-paneled courtroom (Part 4, Room 66).  As with our New York County program in April of this year, the Queens County program was well-attended and well-received by approximately 30 lawyers, judges, and other court personnel.

Many of the same features and equipment were on display during the program, including the 86-inch interactive Smartboard, which works in conjunction with counsel’s laptops, tablets, and USB drives, and on which they are able to display, highlight, and even annotate their documents and videos during oral argument and at trial.  The “ELMO” document camera, which allows counsel to project unique documents and other physical evidence onto the Smartboard for judge and/or jury to see, also was prominently featured during the program.

And if that wasn’t enough courtroom technology for one day, the presenters then promptly Uber’d their way through midday metro traffic back to Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Saliann Scarpulla’s Part 39 for a redux of their April program – this time entitled “The Electronic Courtroom: Using Integrated Courtroom Technology in State and Federal Courts on Motions and at Trial” and sponsored by the Second Circuit Judicial Council and the New York State-Federal Judicial Council.  In addition to demonstrating the existing Smartboard, ELMO, Skype, and audio/visual-impaired technologies, the presenters were given the opportunity to showcase the courtroom’s new, interactive witness-stand monitor, which allows a witness during her testimony to identify, highlight, and annotate with a stylus or her own finger the documents, photos, and other evidence displayed by counsel on the Smartboard.

I’ll say it again:  If you’ve been reluctant to introduce technology into the way you litigate your commercial cases in New York, the Commercial Division may soon leave (indeed, already has left) you behind.

 

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 rulecomments@nycourts.gov 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.

Luddites beware!  If you’ve been reluctant to introduce technology into the way you practice law, the Commercial Division may soon leave you behind.

Here at New York Commercial Division Practice we regularly report on technological developments in the Commercial Division.  Earlier this year, for example, we reported on the technological proclivities of newly-appointed Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Andrew Borrok, whose individual Practices and Procedures emphasize (and even assume) lawyers’ use of technology when practicing in Part 53.

Last year, we twice reported on the implementation of the Integrated Courtroom Technology (or “ICT”) program in the Commercial Division, beginning with Westchester County (Courtroom 105, Walsh, J.) in January 2018, followed by New York County (Courtroom 208, Scarpulla, J.) in October 2018.  The Business & Commercial Law Committee of the Westchester County Bar Association, as well as NYSBA’s Commercial & Federal Litigation Section both presented CLE programs last year on the “21st Century Courtroom” in White Plains, showcasing many of its new hi-tech features and equipment.

Last week, members of ComFed’s Committee on the Commercial Division (including two of this blog’s authors), along with Administrative Judge Deborah A. Kaplan and Manhattan Commercial Division Justice Saliann Scarpulla, as well as sponsor A.C. Roman & Associates Inc., presented a similar program called “The Electronic Courtroom Comes to 60 Centre Street:  Using Integrated Courtroom Technology in the Commercial Division.”  The program, which took place in Justice Scarpulla’s Part 39, was standing-room only and, by all accounts, very well-received by the 75-plus lawyers, judges, and other court personnel in attendance.

Some of the hi-tech features and equipment showcased during last week’s program — all of which, by the way, are described in how-to detail in “Exhibit A” to Justice Scarpulla’s individual Practices and Procedures — included the following:

  • Interactive Smartboard.  Virtually every technological feature and device in Part 39 interacts with the 86-inch Smartboard, which is displayed prominently to the left of counsel table as one faces the bench.  The presenters showed how practitioners can use their laptops, tablets, and USB drives in conjunction with the Smartboard to display, highlight, and even annotate their motion papers and other documentary evidence during argument before judge and jury.
  • “ELMO” Document Camera.  The ELMO allows practitioners to project virtually any physical item in 3D onto the Smartboard for judge and jury to see.  It’s particularly useful for displaying unique documents or other pieces of evidence that are perhaps less conductive to being converted to electronic format.
  • Business Skype Capabilities.  The use of Skype in the courtroom is a considerable step up from teleconferencing (and even traditional videoconferencing), allowing parties and their counsel to remote into and even appear by video in court from an outside location via their desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones.  This feature is particularly relevant to practicing in the Commercial Division, which has become one of the premiere, go-to business courts across both nation and globe.

** Attention all Manhattan Commercial Division practitioners **  If you missed the program last week but would like to familiarize yourself with the ICT features in Part 39 beyond the information provided in Justice Scarpulla’s individual rules, fear not.  ComFed’s Committee on Continuing Legal Education was on hand to ensure that the presentation was video recorded, which recording will be spliced and packaged for distribution on the NYSBA’s “CLE Online and On-Demand” site later this year.

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Several weeks ago we remarked on the Commercial Division’s renowned efficiency and innovativeness when it comes to proposing and adopting new and amended practice rules. But this isn’t the only area in which the Commercial Division is on the cutting edge of innovation.

Last week, members of the Commercial and Federal Litigation Section’s Committee on the Commercial Division, along with Westchester County Commercial Division Justices Linda S. Jamieson and Gretchen Walsh, presented a CLE program entitled “21st Century Courtroom: Using Integrated Courtroom Technology in the Commercial Division.” The program featured a mock traverse hearing during which the participating judges, lawyers, and witnesses showcased in “how-to” fashion the newly-implemented Integrated Courtroom Technology (ICT) in the Commercial Division courtroom, Courtroom 105, located in the Westchester County Courthouse Annex in White Plains.

As described in a recent NYSBA Journal article co-written by former Westchester County Commercial Division Justice Alan D. Scheinkman, in January of this year, the Westchester Commercial Division became the first civil court in the state to implement ICT, “enabling all courtroom participants – judges, clerks, attorneys, litigants, witnesses, jurors, and members of the public – to take fullest advantage of modern evidence presentation systems.” The stated goal of the ICT initiative “was to obtain the latest and best courtroom technology and to tailor it to fit the needs of the Commercial Division.”

Some of the hi-tech features showcased during last week’s mock hearing included:

  • High definition monitors for the bench, counsel tables, witnesses, jurors, and the gallery, which are controlled by the judge or clerk in terms of what is displayed, when, and on which monitors.
  • An “ELMO” document camera, fixed at the podium, which can be used to display evidence on all courtroom monitors.
  • Touch-screen witness monitors, on which witnesses can annotate evidence using their finger or a stylus.  Annotated evidence can then be captured, saved, and printed for consideration by the judge and/or jury.
  • Courtroom cameras, one facing the bench and another facing counsel tables and the gallery, can be utilized for remote appearances via Skype or other video-conferencing technologies.
  • Enhanced audio-conferencing integrated into the courtroom’s sound system, complete with a “white noise” function allowing for confidential, side-bar communications between attorney and client or attorney and judge.
  • Real-time transcription of court proceedings, which can be displayed on all courtroom monitors.
  • Charging stations available at counsel tables with standard AC outlets and wireless charging for compatible smart phones and tablets.

As advised by Justice Jamieson at the outset of the program, counsel need only bring with them to court their laptop or tablet, a USB flash drive, and their own HDMI cable.  Counsel must also schedule a dry-run and equipment test in advance of the proceedings to ensure compatibility and that everything is in working order.  In short, gone are the days of hauling in banker’s boxes of trial exhibits and binders duplicated multiple times over for the judge, witnesses, and opposing counsel — at least in the Westchester County Commercial Division.

Attention all current and future Westchester County Commercial Division practitioners: If you missed the program last week but want to familiarize yourself with the ICT features in Courtroom 105 in preparation for appearing before Justices Jamieson or Walsh, never fear. The Commercial and Federal Litigation Section’s Committee on Continuing Legal Education was on hand to film the presentation, which will be spliced and packaged for distribution on NYSBA’s “CLE Online and On-Demand” site later this year.