Jury trials in New York state courts will come to a near-halt Monday due to concerns about COVID-19, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks announced in a memo to court employees Friday.
Jury trials that are already ongoing—civil trials that have begun opening statements and criminal matters in which the jury has been sworn—will keep going, Marks said, but no new jury trials will start.
Jury selection will be suspended until further notice across the state starting Monday, in both criminal and civil matters, Marks said.
New York’s court system is among a flurry of high-profile institutions nationwide that have shifted or postponed their operations out of coronavirus concerns, many moving at a rapid clip to cut down the virus’ spread.
An executive order from Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorizing the criminal jury actions is imminent, according to Marks’ memo.
Cuomo said Friday there has been no discussion about shutting down the state’s court system.
In an attempt to manage traffic in busy areas of courthouses, Marks also suspended civil Trial Assignment Parts and urged the reduction of courthouse appearances for conferences.
“Effective March 16, centralized preliminary conference parts shall be managed with a goal of minimizing courthouse appearances, maximizing adjournments and stipulations on consent, and directing remote appearances through Skype or telephone,” Marks wrote.
Compliance conferences will also generally be postponed, starting Monday, or conducted by phone or Skype if necessary.
Existing grand juries will continue, Marks said, but no new grand juries will be empaneled “absent exceptional circumstances.”
Marks also confirmed a one-week moratorium on evictions in New York City, which is subject to extension upon review.
New York, one of the top states affected by the coronavirus, announced a ban on gatherings of more than 500 people and new rules that restrict the operating capacity of businesses.
Officials reported Friday there are 421 confirmed cases of coronavirus New York. Ninety six of those cases are new.
There are 154 coronavirus cases tied to New York City and 158 related to Westchester County, where a cluster of cases in New Rochelle has prompted a “containment area” in the city that has shut down schools and houses of worship.
Cuomo codified the large-gatherings ban in an executive order that took advantage of his newly expanded powers.
A bill recently greenlighted by the Legislature gives the governor the power to issue “any directive” during a state disaster emergency that’s tied to a disease outbreak or epidemic. The bill, which also provided an emergency appropriation of $40 million, specified that any directive “must be necessary to cope with the disaster.”
Legal experts say the legislation now allows the governor to issue directives during a state of emergency, instead of simply suspending laws that might hinder an emergency disaster response.
Hermes Fernandez, who chairs the state bar association’s health law section, said the legislation essentially gives the governor the power to “rule by decree” as long as it’s related to an identified emergency.
But the state Legislature could also cancel an emergency executive order issued under the law, he said.
Under the executive order, all large events with more than 500 people will be postponed for a minimum of 30 days. Businesses with a seating capacity of under 500 people will have to operate at half their capacity for the next 30 days, according to the order.
A variety of places are exempted from the capacity rules, including grocery stores, government buildings, mass transit, nursing homes, schools and hospitals.
Red Signs Restricting Entry as Coronavirus Measure Are Coming to All NY State Courthouses, Officials Say