Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Housing Court to reopen in weeks, not months, says Cannataro

Judge warns of 'a very difficult period for the courts'

May 29, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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It was a big step when the court system announced that it would begin reopening courts in counties that meet the Governor’s safety metrics, but many lawyers and judges predicted that Brooklyn, which has some of the most crowded and high-volume courts in the country, would still be months and not weeks away from reopening.

However, when speaking with the Kings County Housing Court Bar Association on Tuesday, Justice Anthony Cannataro, the administrative judge of the New York City Civil Court, which oversees the Housing Court, said that the courthouse on 141 Livingston St. will indeed reopen as soon as New York City reaches the governor’s benchmarks.

“The scariest part of coming here to answer these questions for me is talking about reopening as it pertains to the Brooklyn Housing Court and 141 Livingston St.,” Justice Cannataro said. “There is no facility that poses more difficulties with respect to a safe reopening, whatever that is, than 141 Livingston St. It is a cramped structure that was never designed to host a court.”

The judge noted that once the court reopens, it will look nothing like it did in December 2019. He added that any proceedings that can be carried out online will be carried out online. He also said that the court will not require in-person appearances.

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“I want to make it possible so that anyone who doesn’t want to travel to 141 Livingston St. doesn’t have to travel to 141 Livingston St.,” said Justice Cannataro. “I would not quarrel with anyone’s decision to stay out of that building because they don’t feel comfortable working in that space. I want to facilitate that by enhancing virtual operations, doing everything that we can in the virtual space, or maybe even in a different physical space, which is not completely off the table.”

The judge explained that during the 1918 pandemic, some courts even held hearings outdoors, and said he wasn’t above that if it works for both sides.

“I know that sounds crazy, but if there is an outdoor space where we can do a quick non-payment proceeding, even that’s better than staying inside of 141 Livingston St. if that’s what the parties want,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting was hosted by the Kings County Housing Court and its president, Michael Rosenthal. Lauren Price, a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, and Joanna Laine, a tenants’ rights lawyer at The Legal Aid Society, who are the chairpersons of the Brooklyn Tenant Lawyers Network, also moderated the question-and-answer session that included more than 200 landlord and tenant attorneys.

The meeting lasted about two hours, with Justice Cannataro on hand to answer questions for the first hour. He explained to attorneys involved what’s going on with the court currently, what the immediate future plans are, and the eventual reopening plans.

“The physical presence in the courthouse needs to be reserved for the types of cases and litigants who absolutely need to be in the courthouse,” Justice Cannataro said. “I will not lie, I believe this is going to slow down operations immensely. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that we’re not getting new courthouses soon, we’re not getting new judges or court attorneys. From a budgetary perspective, we are heading into a very difficult period in the courts.”

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