A friend wrote yesterday in The Daily News:
“I am a lawyer on the front lines of the COVID-19 epidemic. I defend people in NYC who cannot afford an attorney in their criminal cases. While I am used to feeling dispensable and dismissed, it has never felt more callous than during this epidemic.
“First, a little primer on arraignments and courtrooms. Typically, the courtroom has a judge, two to three police officers guarding recent arrestees, three to four court officers who are responsible for the security of the courtroom, at least six to eight defense attorneys, two to three attorneys from the District Attorney’s Office and at least three clerks. After the interview and any other necessary work, the client is brought before a judge, who makes a decision about release or bail.
“So on a typical, non-pandemic day, there are at least 22 people inside a courtroom. That does not include the public who have a constitutional right to be present.
“Absolutely everyone else is still present in the courtroom: the police officers, the court officers, the district attorneys and their clerk, the court clerks and, of course, the judge. The court system has not revised its procedures to limit the number of police, court officers and court clerks appearing in a courtroom.
“To accommodate this new video procedure, courts have moved courtrooms from very spacious ones to much smaller ones. No one can determine why they chose smaller courtrooms. Furthermore, to accommodate the video, the judge, defense attorney and district attorney must appear on the video, so they are all within two to three feet of each other when we should be practicing social distancing.
“In these days of Zoom, Google Hangouts, etc, it is possible to create a virtual arraignment part. None of the attorneys need to be there. Papers can be e-mailed. Court staff could be cut back. Police officers could be kept safer. The court system is stuck in the 19th century. It must be dragged into the 21st.”
But while schools were closed and all public gatherings suspended, the NY court administration wanted to wait until over 50,000 people were infected even to think about closing the courts and eliminating in-person proceedings. Here’s what they sent out three days ago to the Brooklyn court-appointed attorneys:
Nothing like the Corona virus for egalitarianism and inclusivity.
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