NY courts set to return to in-person in March, prosecutors, defenders still ineligible for vaccine: source

Noah Goldberg, New York Daily News
·2 min read

State court trials will resume in March even though though prosecutors and defense attorneys are not yet eligible to get vaccinated, court officials said Tuesday.

Jury summonses will start arriving in mailboxes next week, and a state court spokesman Lucian Chalfen said in-person civil and criminal trials will begin March 22.

The state plans a “slow resumption” of in-person proceedings, Chalfen said. He did not directly respond to a question about whether or not it was safe to go back before everyone who works in courthouses are vaccinated.

“If there is a marked change in the current trajectory of the infection rate, we will adjust accordingly, as we have done previously,” he said.

District attorneys and public defenders are worried about the reopening. All five city prosecutors and leaders of several public defender groups wrote a letter to Gov. Cuomo on Sunday asking to have their staffs made eligible for vaccination.

“As grand jury operations, victim outreach efforts, and some in-court appearances are resuming, our employees continue to interact face-to-face with first responders, witnesses, clients, victims, court staff, counsel, impacted families, and members of the public,” the letter said.

“The courthouse environments and cramped office spaces continue to pose a substantial risk for exposure to COVID-19 on a daily basis,” the letter said.

The group asked that the governor include “public facing” employees of the DAs’ office and public defender organizations in the state’s 1B vaccination phase, which is currently under way.

The New York State Bar Association made a similar demand Friday.

Court officials tried earlier in the pandemic to resume in-person court proceedings.

Last fall, officials retrofitted courts by installing plexiglass barriers and enforcing social distancing measures for lawyers and jurors, but outbreaks still occurred. The system shut down to in-person just two months after restarting.

Court officials say they may back off from the most recent opening plan depending on the feelings of those who work in courthouses.

“We are in the process of consulting with our justice partners on these plans, and no final decisions will be made until we have completed that process,” New York chief judge Janet DiFiore said in her weekly address on Monday.