When Chief Court of Appeals Judge Janet DiFiore declared Monday that all civil and criminal jury trials across New York are postponed indefinitely as the COVID-19 pandemic surges, an unsettling feeling of deja vu descended over the state.
It might mean that we have traveled this route before, that we are treading on familiar ground, that we are heading full circle, not to mention full speed, into another long, damaging lockdown reminiscent of the spring when all courts were shut down.
As with all things COVID, the time has come to put our judicial system on pause for who knows how long. We have been here before:
“We are taking these steps in response to the increasing COVID positivity rate, the growing number of communities experiencing COVID-19 clusters, the advice of our epidemiologist who has reviewed our relevant data, and the governor’s latest directive significantly restricting in-person gatherings in commercial and residential settings,” DiFiore said.
Here’s another problem: The backlog of cases produced by the pandemic’s first cycle has not yet been cleared, so a new backlog is unavoidable.
“We have not put a significant dent into the backlog that arose from the last shutdown,” Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka said Monday.
More than a dozen local and county Greene County cases set for trial will be affected by the delay.
“We are hoping that these trials will be underway relatively soon so we don’t have a huge backlog,” Greene County District Attorney Joseph Stanzione said Monday.
Another round of closed courts is a serious setback for Greene and Columbia counties. Like the first shutdown, it will create hardships that reach beyond the courtroom. At the very least, we will not get defendants sentenced if they are convicted, and if there are defendants in jail who have a right to proclaim their innocence, they may have to be held in jail longer than they need to be.
We may be witnessing another crisis brought about by a relentless and ruthless pandemic.