Under the shadow of COVID-19, the proverbially slow wheels of justice in local courts have come not quite to a halt but for the near term will grind more slowly. While Rochester-area federal, state, county and city courts remain open, officials have called a temporary halt to many proceedings.
Access to federal court houses in Rochester and Buffalo, meanwhile, is being denied to individuals who have travelled to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy or Iran in the previous 14 days. In addition to federal civil, criminal and bankruptcy courts, the U.S. court buildings house federal public defender, immigration and probation offices, federal law enforcement agencies and local congressional offices.
In addition to travelers, the ban extends to those who live with or have come in contact with such travelers and to anyone diagnosed with or who has come in contact with anyone diagnosed with COVID-19. Also barred are individuals ordered to self-quarantine by a doctor as well as anyone with a fever or cough or who is short of breath.
The restrictions will remain in place “until it is determined to be safe to remove them,” a March 13 order signed by Western District of New York Chief Judge Frank Geraci Jr. states. A court website post details restrictions and includes contact information for barred individuals who need to conduct court and non-court business during the ban.
Federal court coronavirus restrictions include a 60-day halt to federal civil jury trials and grand jury selections. Judges are asked to limit in-person hearings and oral arguments. Speedy Trial Act rules can be waived at a presiding judge’s discretion to postpone criminal proceedings for up to 60 days.
In area state courts, Seventh Judicial District Administrative Judge Craig Doran on Monday ordered all non-essential functions in the district postponed until April 30, or if circumstances warrant it, an unspecified later date to be determined by the presiding judge. The eight-county district covers state, county and city courts in Monroe, Ontario, Livingston, Wayne, Seneca, Yates, Cayuga and Seneca counties.
Court functions in each county have been consolidated at a single location. No more than 30 people including court functionaries will be allowed to attend any court proceeding. Attendees are to be limited to litigants and their lawyers. Families, friends and other non-litigant parties are barred.
Pending civil and criminal trials will continue to be heard. No new trials will commence until a yet-to-be determined date. Currently serving jurors should continue to report. Those newly summoned for jury duty are not required to report as their summonses have been suspended.
Pending matters that will not be considered during the period include evictions and foreclosures. Default judgments, which would normally go to the favor of a civil litigant when an opposing party fails to show up in court, will not be granted.
Doran’s order details a complete list of matters considered to be essential. The list includes criminal arraignments and treatment court proceedings deemed essential by presiding city or county court judges. No in-person meetings that are not part of an actual court proceeding are to be held.
In a statement Monday, the state courts’ Fourth Department Appellate Division said it would postpone non-essential matters until further notice.
In addition to Monroe County, Fourth Department panels hear appeals from lower-court cases originating in the counties of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Cayuga, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Livingston, Niagara., Oneida, Onondaga, Ontario, Orleans, Oswego, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Wyoming and Yates.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer.