2nd Circ., SDNY Limit Public's Court Access Amid Virus Fears

By Mike LaSusa
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Law360 (March 16, 2020, 10:53 PM EDT) -- The Second Circuit and New York's Southern District are closing the courthouse doors to most of the public in response to fears about the global pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus, the two New York-based federal courts announced Monday.

In separate orders, the Manhattan-headquartered Second Circuit and the Southern District, which has branches in Manhattan, White Plains and Poughkeepsie, said public access to the courts will be minimized in an effort to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease caused by the virus, which was declared a pandemic on March 11 by the World Health Organization.

The Second Circuit said "individuals who do not have business with the court will not be admitted" until further notice, while the Southern District limited in-person access to those with court-related business, in addition to law enforcement and credentialed members of the media.

The Second Circuit said it would try to work around the new restrictions.

"Arguments will be conducted using technology that enables judges and individuals who argue to appear remotely, if they choose, and livestreams the arguments so that public access to the court's proceedings is maintained," the court said.

In the Southern District's case, the limits on in-person access represent a tightening of restrictions put in place earlier this month, when the court barred those with a fever, cough or shortness of breath. The district also said Monday that its executive office will not be issuing new attorney service passes until further notice.

Both the Southern District as well as New York's state court system halted jury trials last week in response to the disease. Another federal court, the Western District of Washington, on March 6 mostly shut down in-court proceedings in the Seattle and Tacoma courthouses.

A number of other courts around the country are imposing similar restrictions as concern about the novel coronavirus leads to increasingly drastic measures, including the imposition on Monday of a three-week "shelter in place" order in several Northern California counties.

The Supreme Court on Monday put off oral arguments scheduled for the next two weeks. The court building closed to the public last week, but Monday's notice indicated that official business will continue, without extending filing deadlines.

The Eleventh Circuit said Monday that only judges, court staff, members of the media and visitors with official business with the court will be allowed into its two courthouses.

The National Courts Building in Washington, D.C., where the Federal Circuit and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims are housed, has also restricted public access in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus, according to a Monday announcement.

Also Monday, the World Intellectual Property Organization said that starting Tuesday it would limit entry to its Geneva headquarters to staff whose jobs must be conducted onsite.

WIPO Director General Francis Gurry said in a statement that the organization is dedicated to the welfare of its staff and the communities where they live.

"In these worrisome times, the entire WIPO workforce stands in solidarity with the global community as we work together to overcome COVID-19," Gurry said.

Law360 is tracking court closures across the country here.

--Additional reporting by Carolina Bolado, Sarah Martinson, Daniel Siegal and Frank G. Runyeon. Editing by Bruce Goldman.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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