Brooklyn courts resume in-person trials after months of being closed

The state Supreme Court Building in Downtown Brooklyn.
Photo by Aidan Graham

Brooklyn courts began hosting in-person jury trials today for the first time since they were halted in March, according to the New York State’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, who highlighted new health and safety measures designed to stem the spread of the virus during trials. 

“We will make responsible decisions based on all of the latest data and public health guidance, and no jurors, lawyers, witnesses, or members of our court staff will be asked to report to our courthouses unless we are confident in our ability to protect their health and safety,” DiFiore said in a pre-recorded video message. 

Everyone who enters a courthouse will be subjected to a temperature check, and mask-usage will be enforced while inside. Court administrators have also installed upgraded air filtration systems and plexiglass shielding designed to adhere to social distancing guidelines, according to DiFiore.

“Every trial that does take place will be conducted in a building that is operated with the full range of safety protocols — implemented, tested, and refined to protect the hundreds of jurors, lawyers, witnesses, and staff,” she said.

The restart comes after all non-essential court administration had been suspended since the beginning of the outbreak, leaving just time-sensitive virtual functions like felony arraignments. Now, judges and legal eagles will begin chipping away at the mounting work that accumulated over those seven months. 

“Our current plan is to restart civil jury trials,” said DiFiore. “Although we are carefully monitoring the COVID metrics in different areas of the city, and we have not yet finalized decisions on the number or the locations of these initial jury trials.”

The outbreak hit the Brooklyn court system particularly hard, as two judges — Noach Dear and Johnny Lee Baynes — both died from the virus in March. 

The closure of the court system also became a hotly-debated topic when Mayor Bill de Blasio urged the state to restart trials, claiming the shutdown was responsible for an uptick in citywide crime — a charge that Hizzoner walked back after DiFiore slammed him in a public rebuke of the assertion.

This story first appeared on our sister publication brooklynpaper.com.