BY DEAN MOSES
Schneps Media is sitting down with judges across the city’s court systems to discuss their roles and how they’ve changed in the age of COVID-19. This week’s interview is with the Hon. Maurice E. Muir, Supreme Court Justice and Civil Court Judge in Queens County.
Schneps Media: Could you describe your duties as a judge?
Hon. Maurice E. Muir: As a Supreme Court judge, we are essentially rendering decisions in connection with various matters, which could include personal injury, contracts, mortgage foreclosures and so forth.
SM: Are there any misconceptions people have about judges you would like to clear up?
MM: It’s just human nature — people are going to have their own opinions. I really try to focus on getting the decision right; that’s what is really important to me. That’s what a judge should really be doing: trying to get that decision right. For some reason or another, if the parties are not in agreement with the decision, they have the right to appeal. Judges are human beings like everyone else.
SM: How has the position/proceedings changed during the pandemic?
MM: Right now, we are not doing jury trials or trials. A lot of our decisions happen to be done in writing and there are still motions that have to be resolved. The motions are being done electronically. We print out from the e-file system and render a decision. There are certain cases where we would have to speak to the parties virtually. Judges now have to become more sophisticated with technology. Whether it is through Skype Business or Microsoft Teams, we get the parties together to discuss the cases.
SM: Have the technical advancements been an upgrade for the court system?
MM: I don’t necessarily agree with that. When you look at technology on a broad scale, it really means that there is less personalization. It also means that there are people losing their jobs. If a judge doesn’t have the benefit of seeing a person, assessing their credibility, whether they are parties or attorneys, then I think there are disadvantages along with the technological advantages.
Also, I have to spend a little more time organizing things. You have to organize Skype meetings for the virtual case conferences. We had some time to catch up on motions since we are not doing trials and not spending inordinate amount of time speaking with attorneys personally. In the beginning, we had a chance during the pandemic closure (March, April, May, and the beginning to June) when motions were completely stopped, so it gave us time to catch up on the ones we already had.
SM: What does a motion entail?
MM: A motion is where a party is seeking some sort of relief. Typically, the relief they are seeking is that they want a summary judgement motion (a ruling on whether or not there is a need for a trial), a motion for default judgment (where one of the parties failed to appear), or a motion for discovery (another party is not giving them what they are entitled to by law).
SM: What are some of the most common problems you deal with at work?
MM: Initially, the problem since the pandemic was that you had to make sure you have your own laptop, desktop or printer, so you could do your decisions by e-file. Then again you have to organize things much more, track cases more electronically.
Another problem is that some of the Pro Se parties (people representing themselves) need technology so that they can participate in the litigation. If they don’t have access to Skype or the electronically filed documents, I would envision that is a problem for them. The courts have to be flexible and make adjustments.
SM: Is there a silver lining that you can find from the pandemic?
MM: I think that technology is really a double-edged sword. It has it has pros and cons. Nothing is perfect.
SM: Are there some hobbies or pastimes you enjoy partaking in during your free time?
MM: Well, because of COVID-19, I’ve been able to work on my gardening. Now, I can take a break, water my grass and plant flowers. I’ve planted a few rose bushes, and I’ve got a bunch of flowers lined up that I get to water.
Gardening was something that I inherited from my father and I have tried to improve on it over the past 30 years. I’m still in the house I grew up in 50 years ago, so my father had planted a bunch of rose bushes around the fences. Over the years, some of those rose bushes died. So, I’ve replanted them all.
I’ve also taken up more bike riding. When I was at home, after doing my conferences, I can get on my bike and do a couple of miles.