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LAS Urges New York to Expand Public Access to Virtual Court Hearings

The Legal Aid Society called for crucial broadband infrastructure upgrades that would ensure that all tenants are able to attend their virtual court hearings, reports The City. While a limited number of tenants who lack legal representation or internet access are eligible for an in-person hearing, the vast majority must attend to their cases via virtual court hearings – which are utterly dependent on reliable broadband access.

Recent studies have shown that a sizeable portion of New Yorkers have no such access – including a January 2020 report from the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer that found that 38% of Bronx residents don’t have home internet — the highest of any borough.

Jessica Bellinder, a Supervising Attorney with the Bronx Neighborhood Office at The Legal Aid Society, said that New York should be doing more to ensure that all tenants are able to attend their virtual hearings. The office and other city agencies are currently seeking proposals to expand affordable broadband access.

“We do believe that courts are a public function — that they should be available to the public and the court system should make efforts to make them publicly available,” said Ms. Bellinder. “We have a large population who don’t have access to reliable internet service . . . and as far as I understand, that hasn’t been addressed.”