State Court System & SDNY Modify Mask Mandates

By Christian Nolan

June 14, 2021

State Court System & SDNY Modify Mask Mandates


By Christian Nolan

Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, during her weekly coronavirus update, announced that judges and court employees who have been fully vaccinated will no longer be required to wear masks in non-public areas of court facilities, including judges’ chambers, back offices and other private areas not accessible to the general public.

Vaccinated judges and court staff will still be required to wear masks in all public areas of court facilities, including courtrooms, courthouse lobbies, elevators and other public hallways and spaces. Judges and staff who have not been vaccinated will still be required to wear face masks in private courthouse areas, as per existing protocols.

Mandates for the public have not changed, as anyone entering court facilities will still be required to wear face coverings and to comply with other safety measures including temperature checks and physical distancing.

For fully vaccinated judges and staff, DiFiore explained that they may take advantage of the new policy by engaging in an easy online enrollment process that will result in the issuance of a special I.D. card confirming your status as a fully vaccinated person.

“Our decision to ease the mask requirement for vaccinated judges and court personnel was based on careful consideration of the latest public health guidance, which indicates that vaccinated individuals pose little or no risk of spreading the virus, as well as the continuing good news surrounding COVID positivity rates and the fact that the number of judges and court staff testing positive for COVID on a daily basis has been at or near zero for several weeks now,” said DiFiore. “Under these circumstances, we feel confident that this decision will help provide vaccinated judges and staff with a much-needed sense of normalcy while still keeping everyone who works in and enters our courthouses safe and healthy.”


Also, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York announced today that when the judge and all other participants are in the well of the courtroom, including parties, witnesses, law enforcement, court reporters and interpreters – and they have been fully vaccinated – then the judge may permit them to remove their masks for the proceeding and social distancing does not have to be observed.

Individuals may only remove their masks when they are in the well and must place the masks back on prior to leaving the well, according to the SDNY memo. All individuals sitting in the gallery of the courtroom must be masked even if fully vaccinated and must maintain social distancing.

Additionally, instead of filling out the daily questionnaire to get into the courthouse, fully vaccinated individuals can receive a QR code after verifying their vaccination status.

“While we are hopeful that current downward trends in COVID-19 positivity rates continue, we are mindful that we could start to see a trend in the opposite direction as we ease restrictions,” the memo stated. “If there are outbreaks, we will have to reassess our policies and consider re-imposing certain protocols. We will continue to provide updates on significant additional revisions to court policies.”

Emerging Adult Justice Part

On Friday June 18 in Westchester County’s Mount Vernon City Court, a new nationally innovative pilot program will begin called the “Emerging Adult Justice Part” that focuses on developing age effective court approaches for emerging adult offenders – the 18-to 25-year-old demographic.

According to DiFiore, that demographic makes up only 10% of the population, but 24% of all arrests in New York State and 29% nationally. She explained that research shows that the transition from adolescence to adulthood is a time when the brain is still developing, and young adults are more susceptible to risk-taking behaviors and peer pressure.

In response to this research, DiFiore said the mission of the Emerging Adult Part is to work collaboratively with prosecutors, defense counsel and with community organizations to provide effective alternatives to prosecution and incarceration for 18-to-25-year-olds charged with certain non-violent offenses.

“And the goal, of course, is to reduce recidivism, improve public safety and help young adults build the foundations necessary for healthy, productive futures,” said DiFiore.

New Family Court Facility in New Rochelle

Last week, a new Family Court facility opened in the city of New Rochelle in Westchester County. It replaced what DiFiore described as “the wholly inadequate and dilapidated court facility formerly located at 420 North Avenue.”

The new facility at 26 Garden St. is located adjacent to a transportation hub and occupies 35,000 square feet, and two floors of a newly constructed six-story building. DiFiore said it features the very latest in court technology and equipment and houses two courtrooms, three hearing rooms, judges’ chambers and ample office space for non-judicial staff and family justice agencies.

“Most important, the new facility provides families and children with an appropriate sense of dignity and respect as they seek critical justice services in sensitive child abuse and neglect cases, domestic violence matters, juvenile delinquency proceedings and other matters,” said DiFiore.

Upcoming CLE Webinars

Wednesday, June 16 – The SEC’s Investment Adviser Marketing Rule: What Is New and What Remains the Same.

Thursday, June 17 – Auto Litigation 2021: Recent Developments in New York Auto Law.

Tuesday, June 22 – The History of Juneteenth and the Importance of Diversifying the Legal Profession.

Tuesday, June 22 – Ethics 2021-2022: Ethics in the Real World.

Latest NYSBA.ORG News

In addition to coronavirus updates, we are adding other interesting new content to our website.

Requiring all police officers to have college degrees, a professional license and liability insurance are among the many innovative recommendations included in a comprehensive report by NYSBA’s Task Force on Racial Injustice and Police Reform, adopted by the association’s House of Delegates at its June 12 meeting.

Also, NYSBA’s Task Force on the New York Bar Exam recommended that the state withdraw from the Uniform Bar Exam and develop its own bar admissions test so that attorneys have a better understanding of state law before being admitted to practice.

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