New York State Unified Court System Announcements on Court System Operations
The New York State Unified Court System has released two memos regarding court system operations. The most recent memo, released this afternoon, provides that
" Effective 5 p.m. on Monday, March 16, we will be postponing all non-essential functions of the courts until further notice." As described in the memo, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/Updated-Protocol-AttachmentA.pdf, essential functions include:

  • Pending criminal and civil trials will continue to conclusion. Consistent with the March 13 directive, no other criminal or civil trials will commence until further notice.
  • Criminal (superior court) matters: Essential applications as the court may allow. Effective Monday, March 16, felony matters wherein the defendant is not in custody shall be administratively adjourned until further notice. Felony matters in which defendants are in custody will either be administratively adjourned or be conducted remotely by video in New York City and in jurisdictions outside of New York City that have technology available to do so.
  • Criminal (lower court): Arraignments and essential applications as the court may allow, e.g., applications for orders of protection. Arraignments shall be conducted through video remote appearances in New York City and to the fullest extent possible throughout the State. In New York City, the Red Hook Community Court and the Midtown Community Court have been designated as arraignment sites where persons believed to be at medical risk related to the coronavirus will appear remotely by video.
  • Family Court: Essential matters as the court may allow, e.g., issues related to child protection proceedings, juvenile delinquency proceedings, family offenses, and support orders.

"Please note that, in addressing essential applications, judges will exercise judicial discretion in a manner designed to minimize court appearances and traffic in the courts." The court system is setting up an emergency number for questions.

The March 13 memo, available at http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/pdf/MEMO-3.13.20.pdf, stated that "[n]o new grand juries shall be empaneled absent exceptional circumstances."

The Unified Court System is posting updates at http://www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew/covid.shtml.

Governor's March 13 Executive Order Contains Provisions Regarding Criminal Court Appearances

Suspensions of law relating to appearances by defendants:
  • Notwithstanding any other provision of law and except as provided in section 182.30 of Article 182 of the Criminal Procedure Law, the court, in its discretion, may dispense with the personal appearance of the defendant, except an appearance at a hearing or trial, and conduct an electronic appearance in connection with a criminal action pending in any county in New York State, provided that the chief administrator of the courts has authorized the use of electronic appearance due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and the defendant, after consultation with counsel, consents on the record. Such consent shall be required at the commencement of each electronic appearance to such electronic appearance. 

The Governor will likely issue additional Executive Orders in the coming days and weeks that impact the rights of public defense clients. We will provide updates as they become available.

New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Suspends Non-Legal Visitation
According to the most recent information posted on the DOCCS website: "Effective Saturday, March 14, 2020 at 5 PM, visitation at all correctional facilities is suspended until April 11, 2020." The notice goes on to state: "legal visits will not be impacted by this visitation suspension. Legal visits will be conducted as non-contact (i.e. no physical contact allowed), as requests are submitted, and that option remains available within the facilities." https://doccs.ny.gov/visitation-suspension-details.

Office of Children and Family Services Website on COVID-19
The Office of Children and Family Services is providing information on COVID-19 at https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/news/COVID-19/. The site includes Guidance for Child Protective Services Staff: https://ocfs.ny.gov/main/news/2020/COVID-2020Mar15-Guidance-for-CPS.pdf.

Association News

NYSDA Public Defense Backup Center and Veterans Defense Program Operations
At this time, our Public Defense Backup Center and Veterans Defense Program will continue to operate, with at least some staff working remotely. Defenders with questions are encouraged use our website contact form, https://www.nysda.org/general/?type=CONTACT, or our general email address, info@nysda.org. Our Public Defense Case Management System (PDCMS) staff can be reached at (518) 465-3524, Option 3, or pdcmssupport@nysda.org.

We are continuing to monitor this rapidly changing situation and will provide updates as they become available. We will also be posting updates on our website, https://www.nysda.org/, and our social media accounts. Thank you for your understanding.