7th District restricts court protocols

John Christensen
The Chronicle-Express

Yates Co. DA Casella has concerns for local courts

YATES COUNTY — The N.Y.S. Unified Court System is dealing with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, and 7th Judicial District Administrative Judge, Craig Doran, announced updated operating protocols, effective Nov. 23, for all courts that fall within Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates Counties. While remaining open for business since the beginning of the pandemic, the court system has been adapting court protocols as needed to contain the spread of Covid. With guidance from public health officials, plans to safely resume more normalized court operations have been ongoing.

“The updates are a measured response assuring that we are appropriately and effectively responding to the data while assuring continued access to courts, particularly for the most urgent matters,” Judge Doran said. The new protocols are an update to the Oct. 19 Return to In-Person Operation Plan (RIOP). Occupancy of all courtrooms is limited to the lesser of ten people or half of the posted room occupancy per code. The number of non-judicial staff reporting to courthouses has been reduced to the minimum number necessary for safe operation. All current personal safety measures including Covid screening at courthouse entrances, mask wearing, social distancing, etc., continue as before. No new prospective trial jurors (criminal or civil) or grand jurors are being summoned for service. The types of matters that may be heard in-person at a courthouse have been scaled back to reduce foot-traffic, while the use of technology to hold virtual appearances is encouraged. Exceptions include County Drug Treatment Court and Judicial Diversion appearances where the judge determines an in-person appearance is necessary to protect the health and safety of a defendant. Another exception is any proceeding involving a self-represented litigant where the judge determines a virtual proceeding denies the litigant proper access to the proceeding.

All other matters must be heard virtually including Bench Trials in Civil and Criminal cases, Evidentiary Hearings in Civil and Criminal Cases, Motion Arguments, Mental Hygiene Law Proceedings pertaining to a hospitalized adult, Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR), Arbitration and Small Claims Assessment Review proceedings.


Impact on local courts

nullYates County District Attorney Todd Casella says, “For the most part we will be able to do the same things in County Court, except that they will be virtual. As it concerns hearings, I have a real concern with those occurring virtually and believe they should continue in person. The executive order did not suspended speedy trial or any other time frames and we are prohibited from empaneling a new grand jury, which is concerning. The added delays for jury trials is equally concerning.”

Casella says what is missing from Doran’s announcement is how local courts are impacted. The latest instructions there limit court proceedings to first appearances on appearance tickets and appearance on VTL matters. No other cases are to be heard in local courts. “That is the bulk of the case load across the state that has effectively been halted for the time being,” says Casella. “We are able to take pleas by mail on violations or plea affidavits on misdemeanors, but this will greatly slow down matters at the local level.”

Doran thanks the community for their patience and understanding as the courts adapt to meet the challenges. Administrative Orders and memos related to the updated court operating protocols can be found on the 7th Judicial District website at http://ww2.nycourts.gov/courts/7jd/index.shtml. Individuals with court-related questions are encouraged to call their designated county courthouse. Courthouse contact information is also available on the 7th Judicial District website.

Additional legal information and resources can be found at the following websites:

  • LawHelp: www.lawhelpny.org/resource/coronavirus
  • NYCourts.gov Court-Help: www.nycourts.gov/courthelp/

For information and updates from the New York State Unified Court System on the Coronavirus, please visit www.nycourts.gov or call the State Coronavirus Telephone Hotline at 833-503-0447.