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As courts slow down, LI defense lawyers cope with coronavirus fallout

Dana Grossblatt, one of the many Long Island

Dana Grossblatt, one of the many Long Island criminal defense attorneys working from home during the coronavirus crisis. Credit: Newsday

Long Island criminal defense attorney Dana Grossblatt abandoned her typical power suit Thursday and went with a sweatshirt, leggings, comfy socks and a ponytail before diving into her legal files.

For more than a week, her laptop computer has replaced the video game setup on her 21-year-old son’s desk.

From there, the Jericho-based solo law practitioner and former Brooklyn prosecutor can watch videos of homicide squad interrogations of her clients in a bedroom where evidence files have taken up residence with baseball memorabilia and childhood sports trophies.

With the wheels of justice reduced to a slow roll due to the coronavirus public health emergency, criminal defense attorneys are among those professionals who have been forced to adapt to keep their businesses going in a financially shaky climate.

Nearly all state criminal court appearances have been postponed, except for essential matters that include arraignments and proceedings involving protective orders.

Grossblatt can’t use her usual home office since her husband, who has a job in international finance, is also now working from home and needs the greater technological capabilities that space offers.

The attorney said she spends a lot of time on the phone reassuring “panic-stricken clients” who are in jail.

“If you’re incarcerated, not knowing when your next court date is, is scary,” Grossblatt said.

Lawyers can arrange to see their clients on a case-by-case basis at Nassau’s jail, according to a county spokeswoman. But the facility, where an inmate coronavirus case previously was confirmed, is closed to other visits.

The Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office also has said that lawyers can arrange to see jailed clients, but no visits from the public are allowed.

But with an immunocompromised family member, Grossblatt said she can’t risk jail visits. She has been mailing her clients copies of new evidence documents in their cases.

Since legal reforms took effect in January, the Nassau district attorney’s office has made materials available through an online portal — something Grossblatt and other lawyers said is especially helpful now.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” defense attorney Brian Griffin said Thursday.

Griffin said his Garden City law firm “went remote” Wednesday, sending other partners and staff  — nine in all -- to work from home.

He said video conferences are available to clients, or meetings in a sizable conference room where putting space between people isn’t problematic.

Defense attorney Robert Schalk, a partner in a six-person Mineola firm, said Thursday that the business is operating remotely but also has shifts whereby one lawyer is always at the office to handle emergencies.

Solo law practitioner Christopher Devane said Thursday that he went from starting a client’s robbery trial last week to having the judge declare a mistrial the next day because of the coronavirus crisis.

“You go from picking a jury … to the case is off indefinitely,” the Mineola lawyer said, while expressing concerns about the potential length of the court slowdown.

But Devane said he would continue to meet clients at his still-open office while adopting “social distancing” standards related to spacing.

“I normally don’t hug my clients anyway,” he said with a chuckle.