2 NJ Federal Courts Shuttered Over Workers With COVID-19

Law360 (March 26, 2020, 3:49 PM EDT) -- Two New Jersey federal courthouses are closed until April 6 because several federal employees who work in the buildings tested positive for COVID-19, according to an order issued Thursday by U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson, the district's chief jurist.

Only authorized cleaning personnel will be allowed to enter the Martin Luther King and Frank R. Lautenberg courthouses in Newark throughout the closure, which does not affect the Garden State's federal courts in Camden or Trenton, the order said. Parties can still conduct business through the court's electronic filing system.

The shutdown aims to "swiftly ensure the health and safety of the public, jurors, grand jurors, court and agency staff and judicial officers, from exposure to or spread" of the coronavirus, Judge Wolfson said in her order.

The decision to close the Newark courthouses was met with concurrence from the court's clerk and its security and executive committees, the U.S. Marshal and the U.S. General Services Administration, the order said.

The shutdown follows the wave of court restrictions that have been implemented amid the rising toll of coronavirus cases and deaths. As of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy's briefing on Thursday, the Garden State's COVID-19 figures were 6,876 cases and 81 deaths. Nationwide, New Jersey is second only to New York in terms of coronavirus cases and fatalities.

The pandemic's impact quickly rippled through New Jersey courts, which last week began holding telephone proceedings instead of in-person hearings, conferences and arguments. Jury trials, judicial terms and some argument calendars have since been postponed, and the state Supreme Court relaxed in-person completion requirements for continuing legal education.

On Sunday, the Supreme Court agreed to release low-level offenders from county jails to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among inmate populations. Federal courts have also received an onslaught of motions seeking release of pretrial detainees due to coronavirus fears.

A message seeking Judge Wolfson's comment wasn't immediately returned.

--Editing by Jack Karp.

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

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