NY To Halt New Jury Trials, Grand Juries Amid COVID-19 Spike

By Kevin Penton
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Law360 (November 13, 2020, 5:52 PM EST) -- New York state court officials plan to postpone new jury trials and grand jury proceedings starting Monday, as a surge in new COVID-19 cases slams the Empire State.

Prospective jurors for new criminal or civil trials will not be summoned, while trials that are already underway are expected to proceed for now until they conclude, according to guidance circulated Friday by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks.

Prospective grand jurors will also be instructed not to physically appear for grand jury service, while pending grand juries are anticipated to continue until completion, according to Judge Marks' memorandum to other judges in New York.

Future bench trials and hearings will be conducted virtually unless a deputy chief administrative judge rules otherwise, with pending bench trials expected to continue until they conclude, according to the memorandum. In-person court conferences that adhere to social distancing guidelines will also be permitted.

"These practices may be further amended as the public health situation evolves," Judge Marks wrote.

New York's Office of Court Administration opted to implement the changes following guidance from its epidemiologist and from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's recent directives that limit the assembly of groups of people in private and public spaces, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the office, to Law360 on Friday.

"As conditions change, we of course will revisit the situation," Chalfen said.

In the past week, at least 15 individuals who work in New York City's court system in various capacities have reported testing positive, according to OCA's website.

New York state had a 2.9% test positivity rate on Wednesday, with nearly 4,800 positive test results, according to the state Department of Health's website.

Officials with the Legal Aid Society — which had previously sued OCA after it moved to reopen certain courts during the summer — could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Courthouses around the country have closed and reopened since the pandemic ramped up in March, with many shutting back down as cases continue to rise.

California's Mendocino County Superior Court closed Nov. 9 for a week after two separate COVID-19 exposures were reported the week of Nov. 2.

Earlier in November, Chief Judge Algenon L. Marbley shuttered the Potter Stewart Courthouse in the Southern District of Ohio after a deputy U.S. marshal who works at the Cincinnati location tested positive.

In August, the Central District of California, the most populous federal judicial district in the nation, announced that it would mostly reshutter its courthouses to the public and that jury trials would continue to be postponed, as COVID-19 cases surged in the region.

--Additional reporting by Hailey Konnath, Lauren Berg and Craig Clough. Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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

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