OSWEGO — The New York courts system won’t be hearing pending criminal cases in person for the time being but other matters may have virtual appearances.
Oswego County District Attorney Gregory S. Oakes said in a recent statement the state court system’s moratorium will last until least June 30, but that could be extended based on administrative and executive orders due to the coronavirus pandemic. The nationwide crisis has thrown a wrench into court proceedings and officials are cautiously taking their foot off the brakes.
The Oswego County Court, Oswego City Court and Fulton City Courts are permitting attorneys to make virtual/electronic appearances on some limited matters, Oakes said, and anyone charged with a criminal offense should contact their attorney to get information about appearance dates.
Any defendant who does not have legal representation should make sure their address and telephone number on file with the courts are current so they can be reached about appearance dates.
Oakes said the DA’s office is continuing to operate in compliance with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive orders regarding COVID-19 restrictions, and asks that everyone else do the same to keep themselves, their family and community safe.
Courts in five upstate judicial districts, including Syracuse and the surrounding area, began the second phase of gradual return to in-person operations on June 2.
According to the NY Unified Courts website, judges, chambers staff and support staff met safety benchmarks and have been returning to their courthouses with the goal of safely increasing courthouse foot traffic in a gradual manner. The court can select matters that require an in-person appearance while continuing to maximize virtual appearances, the site says.
Essential family matters will be conducted in-person and heard by the assigned judge. Criminal, juvenile delinquency and hygiene law proceedings pertaining to a hospitalized adult will be held virtually, as will non-essential matters and mediation/alternate dispute resolution.
Other second phase steps include encouraging physical distancing and reducing the number of people in any given room in courthouses, including staggering case types, court calendars and courtroom use.
Phase one measures that remain in place to protect the health and safety of judges and staff, attorneys, litigants and members of the public include non-employee court visitors will be required to undergo COVID-19 screening before entering the courthouse, anyone entering the courthouse will be required to wear a mask, all staff who interact with court visitors must wear a mask, courtrooms and other areas will be marked to ensure physical distancing, regular sanitization of court facilities and the installation of acrylic barriers, hand sanitizer dispensers and other safety features.
Individuals with court-related questions are encouraged to call their designated county courthouse. Oakes reminded people that his office cannot advise defendants in how to proceed with their cases.