Mayor Bill de Blasio is making the New York City court system into a scapegoat for the recent surge in gun violence, the state's top official in charge of the courts said Thursday evening.
The mayor and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea have called for the system to expand operations, saying a reduction in court functions due to the coronavirus pandemic has led to more suspects left on the street.
Calling de Blasio's attacks on the courts for not fully reopening "bizarre," as well as "false, misleading, and irresponsible," Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said on Inside City Hall there is no connection to the lack of full jury trials and the violence.
"The mayor's comments are insulting to judges, to court staff, to court officers, all of whom have been working so hard to keep the courts functioning," Marks told NY1 Political Anchor Errol Louis.
Marks says he thinks the true factor for the rise in violent crime is the plummeting number of arrests, including gun arrests, over the past two months while shootings have soared.
"That's the problem that should be addressed, rather than scapegoating the courts," he said about the drop in arrests.
Marks pointed out that while courts have been limited, New York State has held over 22,000 arraignments over the past four-and-a-half months, and grand juries can begin resuming in a limited fashion in less than two weeks.
It remains to be seen, however, if trials can conduct closer to normal. Marks estimates courts need to bring in thousands of people to narrow a jury pool for a trial down to the small number given how many of them end up not being able to serve on a particular case. During a pandemic, that task is not particularly practical.
Earlier this week, the mayor said there was a backlog of cases involving violent crimes. De Blasio also said only 50 percent of gun charges have gotten to the point of criminal indictment.
The mayor told NY1the city is willing to help the courts figure out how to reopen safely.
"If it comes down to the question of, can you safely bring a jury into a space to have a trial? Tell us what you need. That's what I said to Office of Court Administration this morning. Do you need big spaces? We've got big spaces. We will make them available to you," he said Monday night.
"Whatever you need, we will help you get it, but simply not having a functioning criminal justice system is going to endanger the people of the city. We can't go on like this," de Blasio added.
Marks concedes there's a possibility that some defendants in criminal cases have been stretching out their cases during the pandemic, staying free and potentially contributing to violence. But he points out that some defendants are still entering guilty pleas.
"I can't say that the cases are being resolved as quickly and as efficiently as they would under normal circumstances, but cases are being resolved," he said.
Watch the full interview above.
Main story image: New York Unified Court System via AP
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