Federal Indictments Return To NYC As Grand Juries Gather

By Frank G. Runyeon
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Law360 (June 17, 2020, 3:06 PM EDT) -- Court officials say New York City's federal grand juries are meeting in person once again, grinding out a wave of new indictments in the past two weeks after a nearly three-month hiatus and amid continuing concerns about COVID-19.

Grand juries in the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York have issued formal criminal charges against two attorneys and another woman accused of hurling Molotov cocktails at police vehicles, as well as against an alleged narcoterrorist and an accused murderer, marking the first indictments since a historic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

One empaneled Eastern District grand jury in Central Islip has been able to gather a quorum — at least 16 of its 23 members — to vote on indictments in person, District Executive Gene Corcoran said in an interview. He said prosecutors are presenting evidence to "socially distanced" grand jurors inside the Long Island courthouse.

That group of citizens is the lone indictment workhorse of the Eastern District at the moment, according to court officials. They came together despite the pandemic to formally charge the alleged firebomb throwers, including a now-suspended Pryor Cashman LLP associate, who are charged with trying to torch NYPD vehicles amid protests over police brutality.

The same foreperson's signature appears on all nine indictments filed June 11, the first and only day new indictments have appeared publicly on Eastern District dockets since March 19.

Although there are "several" grand juries still technically serving, only the Central Islip group has "recently mustered a quorum and no other empaneled grand juries will be able to so do prior to June 22, 2020," Chief Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf wrote in an administrative order Monday, which once again extended the time prosecutors have to file indictments due to COVID-19.

The Central Islip grand jury is on its own until then because no trial jury or new grand jury selections have taken place, Corcoran told Law360. He also cited "the need to minimize the spread of the coronavirus and to limit the size of gatherings."

While grand jury proceedings are secret by law, whether grand jurors are meeting at all and how they will meet amid restrictions on gatherings during the pandemic has been a subject of keen interest for prosecutors seeking to move their cases forward and defense attorneys whose clients are under the shadow of a criminal complaint — and perhaps jailed — awaiting a possible indictment.

A review of Southern District criminal cases by Law360 showed that after a series of indictments on March 26, no other public indictments were filed until June 3. In fact, Manhattan's federal court has its own one-jury workhorse — the same foreperson's signature appears on all 17 indictments publicly filed in the Southern District in June, as of Wednesday morning.

A White Plains grand jury is responsible for the indictments in the Southern District, according to District Executive Edward Friedland.

"All seats have already been spaced out six feet apart. There are masks required at the courthouse, temperature checks required at the courthouse," Friedland told Law360 on Wednesday. "There are spots marked for the court reporter, there's a spot marked for the U.S. attorney, there's a spot marked for the witnesses."

Friedland said he was not aware of a grand jury using the Thurgood Marshall courthouse at 40 Foley Square in Manhattan.

The chief judge of the Southern District unveiled a plan in late March for grand jury panels to convene a video-linked quorum with jurors sitting in both a Westchester courthouse and a Manhattan courthouse in late March, but it does not appear that any grand jury has convened using that technology.

--Editing by Stephen Berg.

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

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