In March, with New York in the deadly grips of the outbreak, many court operations were halted or went remote.
“We are truly in the middle of a historic pandemic," New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said at the time.
Last month, jury trials began again, and dozens took place around the state, though with mixed results.
“The other was adjourned out of an abundance of caution after several court employees at the Bronx Hall of Justice tested positive for COVID,” DiFiore said earlier this month.
Beginning Monday, New York courts will again scale back proceedings as the coronavirus threatens the city and state anew.
New jury trials — both criminal and civil — will be suspended.
The state’s chief administrative judge, Lawrence Marks, declared in a memo that no new prospective trial jurors will be summoned, no new prospective grand jurors will be summoned, and all future bench trials and hearings will be conducted virtually.
Pending jury trials and grand juries will continue to their conclusions.
Socially distanced, in-person court conferences will continue.
Court representatives say their epidemiologist and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s directive limiting gatherings informed their decision.
A court interpreter and two court officers tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month in the Bronx, where the criminal jury trial was adjourned as a result.
“There’s no reason for us to be open for in-person," said Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association. “We should have never endangered the public safety and/or the court employees’ safety. That would be paramount, people’s safety. We have people dying, and we need to stop that.”
But there’s another cost, too. Public defenders say that without jury trials, their often-indigent clients find themselves in limbo.
“In this country, the right of a criminally accused to a speedy, fair trial by a jury of peers is one of the bedrock principals of our society," said Sergio De La Pava, legal director of the New York County Defender Services. "It’s critical to the criminal justice system. And now we’re looking at more than eight months before we’ve really had a vigorous trial system.”
It would be logistically difficult, if not impossible, to hold a jury trial virtually, but arraignments and discoveries these past months have been conducted remotely.