Nearly a decade ago, the thought of an infectious disease requiring mandatory quarantines and executive orders closing schools and businesses around the globe seemed more like a doomsday scenario than anything on the horizon.
But the New York State Bar Association and the state court system was preparing anyway when they released a public health legal manual in 2011.
“Outbreaks of contagious diseases can put judges and nonjudicial court personnel at risk if the participants in court proceedings have those
contagious diseases,” the book reads. “…[W]here the disease is transmitted by an airborne pathogen, court personnel may wear respirators. This equipment is already available at many courthouses. However, the wearing of respirators by the multiple participants in a courtroom setting would no doubt be disruptive to the proceeding, and courts may have to explore alternatives…”
The book then suggests the legal system’s current reality – virtual courtrooms.
Now, as the coronavirus public health crisis continues, NYSBA has updated and reissued its comprehensive “New York State Public Health Legal Manual: A Guide for Judges, Attorneys and Public Health Professionals.” It is the book’s second edition and is the product of a collaboration between NYSBA, the New York State Unified Court System, the New York State Department of Health and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
NYSBA is also providing this valuable resource at no charge for a limited time. The comprehensive book examines the public health laws governing the containment of communicable diseases like the current pandemic and is a collaborative effort that brought together the state’s leading health lawyers and other experts.
“A core mission of the New York State Bar Association is to serve as a resource for the profession, policymakers and public on complex and important public policy issues,” said NYSBA President Hank Greenberg. “Just such issues are presented today by the coronavirus pandemic—a contagion that poses the gravest public health crisis in American history.”
Greenberg and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore wrote forewords for the new edition of the book.
“The major actors in any public health crisis must understand the governing laws… and must know what their respective legal roles and responsibilities are,” said DiFiore.
DiFiore said the following questions that can come up during a public health crisis are answered in the book: What is the scope of the government’s emergency and police powers? When may these be invoked, and by which officials? What are the rights of people who may be quarantined or isolated by government and public health officials?
The book’s new second edition covers the updated laws governing the control of the spread of communicable diseases and the laws concerning the abatement of nuisances that may cause public health emergencies, as well as the constitutional rights of those affected.
The authors also include commentary sections to address gaps or constitutional discrepancies that may not be covered completely by the law. Recognizing that many of the public health law provisions do not apply to New York City, the manual contains an extensive review of relevant sections of the New York City Health Code, the New York City Charter and the New York City Administrative Code provisions.
The book states that: “It is hoped that this manual will help judges, lawyers and public health officials and professionals in their efforts to navigate the myriad statutes and rules, many of which were adopted at a time when recent emergencies could not have been foreseen, and apply the constitutional principles that balance individual rights with societal health requirements.”
On Feb. 15, 2011, the manual’s first edition was featured in The New York Times. Stephen P. Younger was NYSBA president at the time.
The review said that the book provides “a sober rendition of what the realities might be in dire times” and that the book is “intensely practical, giving lawyers and judges a way to get through what would quite likely be chaotic days.”
Click here for more information and to download a free digital version of the book’s new second edition.