By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Oct 31 (Reuters) - New York's courts on Thursday
continued to slowly resume operations, as the city confronted
widespread damage left behind by the monster storm.
After being closed for three days, Rockland County courts
and Mt. Vernon City Court reopened for business.
Most state courts in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten
Island were also open, but the Manhattan state courthouse which
was still without power, remained shuttered except for
arraignments and emergency applications.
"We are really trying to stay open and serve the public
where possible, but where it's not possible, we simply can't,"
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the court system, said on
The First Department, Appellate Division, in Manhattan also
was shut down, and officials said it would remain closed until
power is restored. Until then, a satellite office will be open
at Bronx Supreme Court for emergency applications and motions
for reargument and leave to appeal.
Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday issued a
wide-ranging executive order waiving deadlines for civil and
criminal cases in the wake of the storm. Cuomo's order
supersedes time limits for filing appeals in civil, criminal and
family cases, as well as speedy trial protections for criminal
defendants. It applies to any deadlines after Oct. 26, when he
declared a state of emergency. It affects any provision
regarding legal deadlines that judges cannot extend through
their own discretion.
The federal district courthouse at 500 Pearl Street, which
also houses the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, will remain
closed for the rest of the week due to the blackout in downtown
Manhattan. Oral arguments scheduled for this week in the 2nd
Circuit have been postponed. On Wednesday, Loretta Preska, the
chief judge for the Southern District, issued her own order
extending deadlines for pending federal criminal cases and for
federal grand jury action.
Arraignments were stopped for more than 24 hours during the
height of the storm from Monday to Tuesday, but the backlog was
small thanks to a very low level of arrests, according to Barry
Kamins, the administrative judge for New York City Criminal
Under New York law, defendants normally must be arraigned
within 24 hours of their arrest.
Bookstaver said on Thursday that 100 Centre Street was using
generators to operate the arraignment parts.
The delay in reopening other courtrooms in Manhattan means
that some defendants who were awaiting grand jury action will
continue to be held until those cases can proceed.
State law requires a grand jury indictment or a preliminary
hearing within six days of any felony arrest. Cuomo's executive
order did not address that statute, which permits a judge to
extend the deadline for good cause.
Seymour James, the president of the New York State Bar
Association and the head of Legal Aid's criminal defense
practice, and Richard Willstatter, the president of the state's
criminal defense lawyers association, both said Wednesday the
delays were unfortunate but unavoidable.
"If there's a hurricane and the courts are closed, what are
you going to do?" Willstatter said.
Kamins said the ability of the court system to resume full
operations, including all state Supreme Court parts, depends
mostly on how many staff members can make it to work,
particularly court reporters, since every courtroom needs one in
order to hold a session.
STILL SOME CLOSURES
Outside the city, state courthouses in Putnam County
remained closed Thursday.
State courts in Suffolk County were open, with the exception
of the district courts in Ronkonkoma, Lindenhurst and Patchogue.
Courts in Nassau County had reopened on Wednesday, but
closed Thursday, with the exception of family court, which is
open for emergency applications only, and district court, which
is open for arraignments.
Bookstaver said court officials had expected computers and
phones to be working in Nassau, but they were still down.
"It became apparent that for our employees who answered the
call and came to work (on Wednesday), it just simply was not
productive to have them there under trying circumstances," he
The Southern District federal courthouses in White Plains,
Middletown and Poughkeepsie were open Thursday, as were the
Eastern District courthouses in Brooklyn and Central Islip. The
Second Department of the Appellate Division in Brooklyn was also
open for business.
A full list of court closures, along with phone numbers for
emergency applications for both Family Court and other matters
in various counties, is available online at www.nycourts.gov.
Updates for the Southern District can be found at
(Additional reporting by Basil Katz, Noeleen Walder, Daniel
Wiessner and Karen Freifeld)
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