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Chief Judge DiFiore: Court system never stopped functioning, ‘not for one minute’

August 4, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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Shootings are up in New York City, and for the past few weeks Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea have tried to put the blame on the court system.

They claimed that because the court system has been closed, criminals are not being prosecuted and are out on the streets wreaking havoc. However, it’s a claim that attorneys reject.

“It sounds like someone who doesn’t know how the court system works,” defense attorney Arthur Aidala said with a laugh. “Even if we were having trials right now, they would be from incidents that would have happened over a year ago. Nothing happening in New York City over the last few months is happening because we’re not trying cases that are over a year old.”

Of course, the criminal courts in New York City never actually closed, as pointed out by others, since emergency hearings and arraignments were always heard, even at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Virtual courts were also quickly established.

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“The courts aren’t closed,” defense attorney Michael Farkas said. “Every person arrested for a real crime is being arraigned and prosecuted. People are getting shot in droves because this is the kind of city that the mayor’s inept leadership has wrought.”

Last week, a group of legal service providers wrote an open letter in which they joined the criticism and pointed out that the NYC Criminal Courts have arraigned approximately 19,000 people since the pandemic.

Since Mayor de Blasio and Commissioner Shea have blamed the court system for rising crime, many have pointed out that the courts are not closed, and that the Criminal Courts were never closed due to the pandemic. Photo: John Minchillo/AP

On Monday, Chief Judge DiFiore stood up for the court system during her weekly address to the legal community by pointing out that it never stopped working and that overall it has heard 160,000 essential and emergency matters during the pandemic.

“One more thing I’d like to make crystal clear — the New York State Unified Court System has never stopped functioning,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “Not for a day, not for an hour, not for a minute.”

From April 13 until July 27, the courts conferenced and heard more than 151,000 non-essential matters, settled or disposed of 53,570 of those matters, and issued 26,500 written decisions on motions and other undecided matters.

“While our judges and professional staff don’t need a ‘thank you’ for doing their jobs, they do deserve recognition for their productivity, their professionalism and their steadfast commitment to serving the public during these very challenging months,” Chief Judge DiFiore said.

The courts have recently reopened for non-essential and non-emergency cases in New York City, and Chief Judge DiFiore reported that so far everything is running smoothly. The next big test will come on Aug. 10 when grand juries resume, because for the first time the courts will require that jurors return.

“We have been carefully planning for the resumption of grand jury operations in New York City next Monday, Aug. 10,” Chief Judge DiFiore said. “We have been retrofitting our facilities, modifying our operating procedures and working with the district attorneys and the defense bar to ensure the safe return of grand jurors to our courthouses.

“We expect to empanel four grand juries in Manhattan, three each in Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens, and one in Staten Island. Obviously, this a most important milestone on the road back to a ‘new normal’ for our courts and the entire criminal justice system.”

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