Arraignments and other essential court functions continue to proceed via Skype while nonessential court matters have been further delayed into the summer months, officials said Wednesday.
Greene and Columbia county judges, court reporters and litigants are appearing virtually under a streamlined court system. All town and village court matters have been designated as nonessential, except for arraignments, according to rules laid out by the Office of Court Administration.
The Greene County Courthouse is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. A county court judge sits as acting local court judge to handle arraignments by Skype, Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said.
There is no formal appearance of the defendant, defense counsel or the district attorney’s office in court, he said.
Several local judges have been designated by the Office of Court Administration to hear arraignments nights and weekends, officials confirmed. An arraignment occurs after an arrest when the defendant is formally read the charges against them and expected to enter a plea.
Greenport Town Judge Barry Sack has done five after-hours virtual arraignments. Conducting court business online presents challenges, he said.
“I am at home, the defendant is at the jail and the assigned lawyer is at his or her home, so it is a different and unusual procedure,” Sack said. “One I did started at 9 p.m. and ended at 11:40 p.m. That was a little tough, especially when you are trying to finagle the computer to get everything working and you are tired.”
Sack is one of seven Columbia County judges selected to cover arraignments for the county during the COVID-19 shutdown. He covers Greenport, Stockport, Claverack and Philmont, and was chosen partially on the basis of his access to wireless internet.
While hearing arraignments, Sack and the other judges must run an additional computer program to ensure that all proceedings are recorded on video in case it is requested for review at a future date.
“We are all trying to do our best to keep the court system going, until everything is back in order,” Sack said.
Stanzione said online arraignments are going well under the circumstances.
“The more this goes on, the more I think this should be something we should continue into the future,” he said. “I think about the cost savings when we have arraignments of, say, prison inmates who commit a crime in the prison.”
In these types of cases, the inmate may be transferred from the location where the incident occurred in one of the prisons in Coxsackie to another state facility, and then have to be transported back to Greene County for the arraignment.
Earlier this month, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office set up a computer station in the lobby of the county Public Safety Facility, which is available to law enforcement officers who need to participate in live video arraignments, said Columbia County Sheriff David Bartlett.
A computer has also been set up behind Plexiglas in the lobby of the jail for defendants to use during video arraignments, Bartlett said.
“Even in this unprecedented COVID-19 time, we must make sure that essential criminal-justice proceedings can continue in a way that’s safe for everyone involved,” Bartlett said in a statement.
In Greene County, court clerks are working in person to ensure video conferencing court functions go smoothly, officials said.
No civil trials or criminal jury trials will be held until the end of the COVID-19 shutdown, when court clerks will be tasked with rescheduling all delayed court matters.
The retrial of Arthur Morgan, the Claverack man accused of beating his wife to death more than 11 years ago, was scheduled to begin at the Columbia County Courthouse on April 6, but has been postponed.
Aside from arraignments, Stanzione said the Greene County district attorney’s office is actively working on providing discovery materials to defense counsels within the 15-day deadline.
Town and village court clerks Tuesday were instructed to further postpone nonessential appearances until June at the earliest. New dates for traffic-ticket appearances will be sent by mail.
“There is going to be some backlog, but we will just take the cases one at a time,” said Claverack Town Justice Michael Cozzolino.
When rescheduling court business, the court clerks will prioritize the cases, Chatham Town Court Clerk Joan Goold confirmed.
The following town and village justices have been designated to hear arraignments nights and weekends. In Columbia County: David Dellehunt, Kinderhook; James Borgia-Forster, Chatham; Jeffrey S. Tallackson, Taghkanic; Angela Guzzi, Livingston; Barry Sack, Greenport; John Connor and Brian Herman, Hudson. In Greene County: Rick Jacobs, Catskill; David Rikard, Prattsville; Wanda Dorpfeld, Coxsackie; Kimberly Prince Walsh, Hunter; Raymond Kennedy, Durham.