WATERTOWN — Courts across the north country will begin to return to in-person operations Wednesday after having judicial activity extensively curbed for more than five weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The state’s two top judicial officials, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks, said in a statement that judges and court staff in counties that have met Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s safety benchmarks for reopening can begin to do so on a limited basis.
Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties in the state’s Fifth Judicial District and St. Lawrence and Franklin counties in the Fourth Judicial District, have all received approval for court reopenings.
The court system has remained opened throughout the pandemic, but on a limited basis and only for essential matters. In some instances, court facilities have been consolidated, with activities such as arraignments taking place at a centralized location, and virtual court operations were expanded.
Beginning Wednesday, judges and chamber staff, as well as designated clerks and support staff, will return to courthouses. New cases, which had been suspended since the governor issued an executive order that halted their filings, will resume electronically.
There will be some changes to how the courts will operate, with judges and staff being required to use personal protective equipment, such as masks and hand sanitizers. All non-employee court visitors will be required to undergo COVID-19 screening before entering the courthouse and must wear a mask. A mask will be made available to any visitor who does not have one.
On May 25, town and village court justices and clerks may return to work in their courthouses handling clerical and other Chambers matters, provided their municipality provides appropriate PPE and social distancing is maintained.
Although town and village courts will be open, there will be no calendars or formal court proceedings yet and foot traffic will not be encouraged.