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Long IslandCrime

Officials report 11 new COVID-19 cases across 8 Long Island courts

The state's chief administrative judge said that starting

The state's chief administrative judge said that starting last week, all bench trials and court hearings, including in Mineola, would be virtual unless otherwise authorized. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Court officials have made notifications about 11 new cases of COVID-19 spread across eight Long Island courts since last week's statewide suspension of new jury selection due to a virus spike.

By Tuesday, those public reports about virus exposure included one about a juror who tested positive Sunday for COVID-19 after being in Nassau County Court on Thursday.

The incidents stretch back to Nov. 10.

Nassau court spokesman Daniel Bagnuola confirmed the infected person had been on a grand jury — panels that have kept working despite the suspension of any new jury service. He said the grand juror last had contact with the other 22 grand jurors Thursday and had been dismissed from duty.

Court officials told the other grand jurors Monday morning about the individual’s positive test, and the panel, which meets once a week, will continue its work, according to Bagnuola.

"All appropriate cleaning and safety protocols are ongoing," he added.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for New York’s chief judge, said Tuesday that top court administrators are constantly following metrics about the disease’s spread and have taken measures to address the jump in positive tests.

In a Nov. 13 memo, the state’s chief administrative judge said that starting last week, all bench trials — in which a judge decides the verdict — and court hearings would be virtual unless otherwise authorized. But that judge, Lawrence K. Marks, also said in-person court conferences would continue with social distancing standards kept in place.

"Outside of New York City, we have implemented a plan to reduce some court staffing depending on local operational needs, and to stagger in-person appearances to minimize foot traffic," Chalfen said.

The chief judge’s spokesman also said the court system will adapt as conditions change "to keep the health and safety of our judges, nonjudicial employees and litigants at the forefront of our decisions."

Chalfen added that court appearances on Staten Island, where he said "the uptick is particularly acute," had been postponed.

Besides the Nassau juror, notifications since last week about other positive COVID-19 tests linked to Long Island courts have involved two attorneys and several court employees — including a cluster in district court in Patchogue.

Three employees there tested positive, including two who last went to work Nov. 17.

Other Suffolk courts where recent notifications show COVID-19 exposure has been a factor are the district courts in Central Islip, Lindenhurst and Ronkonkoma, along with Family Court in Central Islip.

In Nassau, a recent notification came out about a Supreme Court employee testing positive for the virus after last being in the Mineola courthouse Friday.

Records also show two employees in Hempstead District Court had recent positive tests, with one going to work last on Nov. 17 and the other three days later.

Nassau Legal Aid Society Attorney-In-Chief N. Scott Banks said Tuesday he’s asked Nassau’s top judge to set a meeting with legal community stakeholders to discuss the court system’s most recent pandemic-related protocols.

"Our employees are extremely nervous about it," Banks said about the virus uptick in courthouses.

The Legal Aid chief also said his staff has "had issues with judges requiring attorneys to come into court for insignificant reasons."

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