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Courts on LI, most of NY plan to restart jury trials as infections dip

The pandemic led the state's court system to

The pandemic led the state's court system to adopt a mostly virtual model of operations starting last March in an effort to check courthouse foot traffic. Credit: Newsday/Bridget Murphy

Plans are underway for jury trials to restart next month on Long Island and across most of the state because of the drop in the coronavirus infection rate, court officials said Friday.

Jury selection for both criminal and civil trials in Nassau and Suffolk can begin March 22, according to memos from the top judge in each county.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for New York Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, added that plans are being made for jury service to restart on that same day throughout most of the state.

"Everywhere outside of New York City, people will be getting summonses for March 22," he said of the process for calling prospective jurors into court. "Plans for the city are being discussed."

State court officials suspended the selection of jurors for trials starting in November after an uptick in coronavirus cases. Then in December, DiFiore said in-person court staffing was being reduced to 40% or less on Long Island and in other courts outside of New York City, with the number of in-person court matters then being "sharply" limited.

But grand juries, whose panelists decide whether to indict defendants, were permitted to keep working.

Nassau Administrative Judge Norman St. George said in his memo Friday that COVID-19-related metrics "permit an opportunity" to increase the number of court proceedings where parties appear in person instead of virtually.

But St. George wrote that virtual appearances still "remain preferred." Suffolk Administrative Judge Andrew Crecca, who released a separate memo Thursday, said that kind of court appearance will stay the "norm."

The pandemic led New York’s court system to adopt a mostly virtual model of operations starting last March as administrators tried to dramatically decrease courthouse foot traffic to fight virus spread.

Both St. George and Crecca also wrote in their memos that court officials would be flexible if pandemic-related conditions changed.

"The court system remains nimble and ready to quickly adapt operations as conditions warrant," Crecca’s memo said in part.

Cases of coronavirus in Long Island’s courts have continued to mount since 2021 began, even with the reliance on a mostly virtual model and a reduced in-person workforce, Newsday previously reported.

By Feb. 3, there had been 60 notifications this year about positive COVID-19 results among people in Long Island’s state court facilities. Most cases involved court employees. But St. George and Crecca said earlier this month that contact tracing seemed to show staff who contracted the virus weren’t catching it at work.

Since then, there have been at least 19 more notifications about positive COVID-19 results among people who have been in local court facilities, state records show.

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