COVID-19 Sickens 17 Judges, Over 150 Court Staffers In NY

By Frank G. Runyeon
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Law360 (April 27, 2020, 9:09 PM EDT) -- New York state court officials on Monday reported 168 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among its court employees, including 17 judges — two of whom have died — as the chief judge mourned the virus' damage to the judiciary.

New York State Court of Appeals Chief Judge Janet DiFiore announced the statistics in a Monday video address, noting that more than half of those positive cases were uniformed officers. A representative for the courts confirmed to Law360 that in addition to the deaths of Supreme Court Justices Noach Dear and Johnny Lee Baynes, the court system had lost a third person to the virus, a court assistant whom he did not identify.

"We know the virus has taken its toll on everyone, including our court family: 168 of our judges and court staff have tested positive for COVID-19," the chief judge said.

"Tragically, several of our beloved judges and professional staff have passed away from complications caused by the virus. We send our thoughts and prayers to their family members and friends, as well as our promise to honor their memories and hold them close in our hearts," Judge DiFiore said.

Justice Baynes, who presided over Part 68 in Brooklyn state supreme court's civil term, died on March 26 after serving nearly three decades on the bench. He first sat as a housing court judge from 1993 to 2004 before moving to New York City civil court in 2005 and finally winning an appointment as acting state supreme court judge in 2010 and election as a full-fledged justice the next year.

Justice Dear served as a New York City councilman from 1983 to 2001 before taking the bench in New York City civil court in 2008. He was appointed acting state supreme court justice in 2010 and won election to the post in 2015. He died on April 19.

State court officials have been quietly posting reports of COVID-19 infections from court employees and others who were in court buildings since March 11, in an anonymized rundown that lags behind the 168 positive cases Judge DiFiore reported on Monday, according to state courts spokesperson Lucian Chalfen.

Of the 125 positive cases reported on the New York state courts blog so far, officials identified 94 as employees or officers, 14 as attorneys, and just six as judges — in addition to an assortment of others including five visitors, a witness, a court reporter and a juror.

Court officials did not provide a demographic breakdown of the 168 cases reported on Monday beyond the 17 infected judges. Chalfen did not immediately respond to a request for the identities of those judges, although Law360 previously identified one of them as New York State Supreme Court Justice Margaret McGowan, who sits in Queens. Hers was the first reported case of COVID-19 in the state judiciary.

--Editing by Alanna Weissman.

Update: This article has been updated with additional information about Justice Baynes' career.

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

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