Trial pilots permitted in county courts

St. Lawrence County Courthouse, 48 Court St., Canton. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

CANTON — The state Unified Court System has rolled out COVID-19 protocols and gradually resumed in-person services in courts across New York through the spring and summer.

At the direction of the state’s Chief Judge Janet M. DiFiore, jury trials on a pilot basis have been approved to begin this week in St. Lawrence, Saratoga and Washington counties in the 4th Judicial District, as well as in Onondaga, Broome and Westchester counties in other districts.

“We describe them as pilots because we are using them as an opportunity to carefully examine and study every phase of the process in order to frame the most effective protocols and best practices to safeguard everyone’s health and safety as we pursue in-person jury trials on a larger scale,” Judge DiFiore said.

The state issued a memorandum March 13, directing civil and criminal jury trials be postponed until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic, unless opening statements had already started in a civil trial or the jury had been sworn in for a criminal trial.

The limited resumption of jury trials in St. Lawrence County Court, Canton, follows the partial reopening of courthouses mid-May across the 4th Judicial District — comprised of Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, St. Lawrence, Warren and Washington counties.

Some in-person services also resumed mid-May in the state’s 5th Judicial District — courts in Lewis, Jefferson, Oswego, Herkimer, Oneida and Onondaga counties.

As pilot jury trials begin, the court system and the state Department of Health plan to continue evaluation of regional cases and courthouse operations.

“As the judicial branch of government, our solemn obligation is to restore the constitutional right to a trial by jury as soon as it is safe and responsible for us to do so — and that is exactly what we are doing in the New York state courts,” Judge DiFiore said.

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