Public Health

Suffolk County DA among 25 court-connected people in New York diagnosed with COVID-19

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New York state courts report that 25 people with court connections have been diagnosed with COVID-19, including Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini.

Others who tested positive include four lawyers, two judges, a judicial officer, nine court employees, a legal intern, an inmate, a sheriff’s deputy, a witness, a mediator, two court visitors and a juror, according to the state courts website. Law360 has a story.

The New York judges diagnosed with the virus have previously been identified as Wayne Saitta, who presides in a Brooklyn civil court, and Margaret Parisi McGowan, who is on the bench in Queens. The New York Post, ABC 14 News and had coverage.

State courts spokesman Lucian Chalfen told Law360 that reports of COVID-19 among courthouse visitors are likely peaking because there are far fewer people in courts. New York state courts paused all nonessential functions and new jury trials on March 15.

The New York Times reported on March 20 that courts in New York and elsewhere “have not quite come to a halt, but they have slowed to a crawl. Trials have been delayed; grand juries have been put on hold; and sentencings have been postponed. Judges have been urged to avoid conducting hearings in person.”

The March 15 order did not pause trials in progress, and that led to a difficult decision for Judge Cheree Buggs of Queens when a female juror in a negligence trial came down with a severe cough, according to the Law360 article. The juror later tested positive for COVID-19.

After the juror reported the cough on the last day of trial, Buggs said she believed a mistrial would have to be declared, according to the lawyer for the plaintiff, Richard Winograd. Lawyers on both sides said they wanted to continue.

Buggs asked jurors who would feel comfortable staying until the end of the trial. Three left and five agreed to stay. They found for the plaintiff.

Winograd told Law360 he believed the circumstances may have tainted the damages award. “It seems like it was a compromise verdict because of the circumstance,” he said.

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