NY stops all jury trials as virus surges

All civil and criminal jury trials across New York are postponed indefinitely as the COVID-19 pandemic surges across the nation, with increasing cases by the day statewide.

New jury trials and the summoning of new trial jurors are halted until further notice, state Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said Monday.

“While we are very pleased with the progress we have made to reaffirm the right to a trial by jury in New York state, the time has come to pause our efforts,” she said Monday afternoon in a video message, which appears on the nycourts.gov homepage. “We are taking these steps in response to the increasing COVID positivity rate, the growing number of communities experiencing COVID-19 clusters, the advice of our epidemiologist who has reviewed our relevant data, and the governor’s latest directive significantly restricting in-person gatherings in commercial and residential settings.”

Jury and bench trials in progress will be allowed to proceed through completion, said DiFiore, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals.

Newly commenced bench trials and hearings will proceed virtually unless otherwise approved by a state deputy chief administrative judge. No new, prospective grand jurors will be summoned until further notice.

Sitting grand juries will continue operating for now, DiFiore said, because of their critical importance to the criminal justice system.

Monday’s court system restrictions comes on the heels of the state COVID-19 infection rate hovering around 2.8% for the past several days, with consistently increasing numbers of New Yorkers in statewide hospitals combating virus complications. The state reported 1,968 COVID patients in the hospital Monday — an increase of 123 people from the day before.

Rising virus numbers within the state’s 10 regions include 1.8% positive in the North Country — down from 2.5% Friday; 2.3%, up from 2% in the Capital Region; and the state’s highest numbers in Western New York at 5.2% positive, down slightly from 5.6% new infections Saturday.

The state Unified Court System expanded in-person operations in phases through the summer, with criminal and civil cases resuming around the state this fall.

“With the COVID metrics clearly trending in a negative direction, and with Thanksgiving and the year-end holidays fast approaching, it would not be wise or prudent for us to continue scheduling jury trials and summoning large numbers of jurors, lawyers, litigants and witnesses into our courthouses at this time,” DiFiore said. “Of course, we will continue to closely monitor the COVID metrics, we will make all necessary adjustments in response to the data, and we look forward to resuming grand jury and petit jury operations when the time is safe to do so again.”

The court system tried 47 cases to verdict since early September, with another 12 cases brought to trial in New York City within the last month.

In-person proceedings will be severely limited at the county and state levels, similar to delays and restrictions put in place when the virus first hit the state in March and April. State courthouses have implemented several new safety measures in place to bolster virtual court offerings, including remote trials, hearings, conferences and alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, sessions, DiFiore said.

“We have made great progress on both tracks, and we have significantly increased our virtual capacity,” she explained. “With each passing week, we have become more facile and fluent in the virtual world … and we have been successful in resolving thousands of family, matrimonial, commercial, civil, housing and criminal matters.”


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