SDNY Suspends All In-Person Operations Due to COVID-19 Spike

By Christian Nolan

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Good afternoon Members,

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York has suspended all in-person operations beginning today and extending through Jan. 15, 2021.

Meanwhile, several state courts have suspended all in-person proceedings due to people testing positive who work in the courthouses.

According to the standing order issued by Chief Judge Colleen McMahon in the Southern District of New York, courthouses will remain open but there will be no trials or any other in-person proceedings. All jury trials scheduled between Dec. 1, 2020 and Jan. 15, 2021 have been adjourned and parties will be notified of a rescheduled date.

“This temporary curtailment of operations is required to preserve public health and safety in light of the recent spike in coronavirus cases, both nationally and within the Southern District of New York,” said McMahon.

No jurors will be summoned during this period and no new grand juries will be selected until Jan. 19. Sitting grand juries will continue operating during this time period.

All civil proceedings, including bench trials and hearings with witnesses, will be conducted remotely. All criminal matters, including presentments, arraignments, criminal conferences, pleas and sentencings will be conducted remotely unless the defendants decline to waive the right to be physically present, and the court concludes that the matter cannot be postponed, in conformity with the CARES Act.

The order notes that parties must consult with the presiding judge about adjournments and if a matter cannot be conducted remotely and must be heard in person, they must contact Thomas Mixon of the district executive’s office at [email protected].

The clerk’s offices in both Foley Square and White Plains will be open during normal business hours from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. However, the public counters in the clerk’s office will be staffed only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. New cases, motions and other applications should be filed via ECF.

Members of the staff of the district executive’s office will be on site from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday. However, the office can only be reached by phone at 212-805-0500 or by email.

COVID-19 Spreads in State Courthouses

The New York State Unified Court System announced in mid-November that all new jury trials and grand juries would be suspended due to the resurgence of coronavirus in areas throughout the state.

While pending cases were still to finish, courthouses across the state are reporting COVID-19 exposures that are leading to some additional shutdowns of in-person operations.

For instance, the criminal Supreme Courts in Brooklyn and Queens suspended all in-person appearances beginning yesterday after numerous court staff tested positive for COVID-19. Officials in Queens said only in-person appearances deemed “absolutely necessary” could occur.

Additionally, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ellen Biben and New York State Court Officer Lt. Robert Gelormino tested positive for the virus Friday, according to the New York Daily News.

“As you likely know by now, we have developed contingency plans for reduced in-person staffing levels and scaled-back operations in all of our courthouses, and those contingency plans are ready to go into effect in any COVID red zones or courthouses experiencing a high positivity rate among our judges and staff,” Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said during her weekly address yesterday. “As we’ve said all along, additional challenges, and even setbacks, were to be expected, especially as we head into the cold weather months, but the good news is that we’re ready and prepared to meet these challenges.”

The state court system continues to report on its website numerous cases of court employees and visitors at courthouses around the state testing positive for coronavirus. Just today, for example, cases have been reported involving employees at the Appellate Division, Third Department in Albany, Buffalo City Court, Niagara Falls City Court and Kings County criminal Supreme Court.

COVID-19 Webinars

Thursday, Dec. 3 – Post-COVID-19 Bankruptcy and Loss Mitigation Options.

Friday, Dec. 4 – Developing Your Theory of the Case – NYSBA Trial Academy Virtual Conference.

Tuesday, Dec. 8 – Drafting Key Life-Planning Documents During COVID-19.

Latest NYSBA.ORG Coronavirus News

We are adding new content each day to our website related to the coronavirus public health emergency and its impact on the legal community.

The New York State Bar Association’s 144th Annual Meeting will look and feel a bit different this year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Rather than gathering for a week in late January at the New York Hilton Midtown, this year the Annual Meeting will be going virtual over the course of two weeks from January 19–29. Click here for an Annual Meeting 2021 preview.

We also take a look at the upcoming Legal Innovation Tournament held virtually Jan. 11 and 12 that will highlight apps designed by law students across the state to help the underrepresented and improve access to justice.

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