The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York announced Friday that it would be limiting most in-court hearings to its largest courtrooms in Manhattan and White Plains, as it seeks to expand social-distancing measures and scale back operations in the face of the growing coronavirus outbreak.
In a new memo, Chief Judge Colleen McMahon said that, starting Monday, March 23, criminal case operations would be limited to processing new arrests, arraignments, bail appeals and emergency matters.
In multiple defendant cases, the memo said, only two defendants would be arraigned at a time. Observers to the proceedings would be required to sit in designated seats, in order to “preserve social distancing procedures,” and attorneys would be allowed to request to participate remotely.
All arraignments would take place before the on-duty magistrate judge in Courtroom 24B at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, instead of the smaller courtroom typically used on the building’s fifth floor.
All other in-court matters would be held in the largest courtrooms in Manhattan and White Plains.
Civil court operations, meanwhile, would proceed at the discretion of the judges assigned to individual cases. In-court appearances would be “limited strictly” to emergency matters, although even these should be conducted by teleconference or video conference, if possible, the memo said.
The court’s emergency civil part would continue to operate in the two Foley Square courthouses, though its hours would be limited to 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Court-ordered mediation will no longer take place in the federal courthouses, and attorneys were encouraged to use alternate locations and methods for convening sessions.
The latest restrictions build on earlier efforts by McMahon to maintain essential court functions and protect staff during the novel coronavirus outbreak. All new civil and criminal trials in the district have been postponed, and access to the courthouse has been severely curtailed to prevent the virus from spreading within its walls.
The U.S. Court of Appeals, meanwhile, is closed to the public, and the court announced Thursday that it would hear all oral arguments remotely for the duration of the crisis.