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Jury trials suspended, town and village courts closed 

The Monroe County Hall of Justice in downtown Rochester.

FILE PHOTO

The Monroe County Hall of Justice in downtown Rochester.

Town and village courts across New York have been shuttered and all “non-essential functions” of the court system have been postponed in response to the coronavirus pandemic, under a directive of the state’s chief administrative judge.

The order from Judge Lawrence Marks was issued late Sunday, two days after he suspended new civil and criminal jury trials, calling that extraordinary move “part of our ongoing efforts to reduce courthouse traffic to combat the spread of the coronavirus and protect the health and safety of our workforce.”

Both of the directives became effective on Monday.

The practical implications of town and village courts closing is that new cases slated to be heard in those courts after 5 p.m. Monday will be adjourned at least 45 days, until April 30.

Any cases winding their way through town and village courts in Monroe County will be transferred to the Hall of Justice in downtown Rochester.

Jury trials that are ongoing — either civil trials that have had their opening statements and criminal matters in which a jury has been sworn — will keep going, Marks wrote, but no new trials will start.

One noteworthy aspect of the earlier directive was that “no new grand juries shall be empaneled absent exceptional circumstances.”

Prosecutors in Monroe County routinely present cases to grand juries as an alternative to a preliminary hearing. Doing so is thought to give prosecutors an advantage in that they avoid presenting evidence in open court and having their witnesses cross-examined.

Public Defender Tim Donaher said his office was preparing for preliminary hearings to resume.

That may not happen for some time, however.

Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said there are currently two empaneled grand juries, one sitting through March 20, and the other through March 31.

She added that she may seek an exception to have a grand jury on call through the current public health crisis.

“We need to have a grand jury sitting even if it’s having them on call,” Doorley said. “Cases are still going to be coming through the door every day and we still have to do our jobs.”

David Andreatta is CITY’s editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.

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