By Joseph Ax and Karen Freifeld
NEW YORK, Nov 5 (Reuters) - Manhattan's courthouses limped
back to life Monday despite confusion and technological problems
after nearly a week without power in the wake of superstorm
Civil and criminal state courthouses in lower Manhattan
reopened Monday on a limited basis, while the federal court
nearby also opened for the first time since Sandy churned
through the region, bringing destructive flooding and widespread
But the bankruptcy courthouse for the Southern District of
New York remained closed with no heat or connectivity. A
spokeswoman for Manhattan's federal court system said there is
no timetable for reopening.
The Beaver Street headquarters for the Office of Court
Administration, which oversees the operations of the state
judiciary, also remained shut down, likely for weeks.
Gail Prudenti, the state's chief administrative judge, said
officials had redeployed to courthouses across the region most
convenient to their homes.
"We are slowly and incrementally" getting the courts back
online, she said.
On Long Island, district courts in Hauppauge and Patchogue
reopened, leaving only a few courts in the state still closed.
The phone system of the state courts throughout Manhattan
was still having problems, forcing officials to set up temporary
phone numbers for courthouses, clerks' offices and
Manhattan Criminal Court, which handles arraignments and
misdemeanor cases, was fully operational, according to Barry
Kamins, the administrative judge for the New York City Criminal
Court. Due to a miscommunication, however, the corrections department delivered some of the wrong prisoners for court
hearings Monday, Kamins said.
In state Supreme Court, which oversees felony cases,
incarcerated defendants will not be produced until Wednesday.
Grand jurors were told to report Monday. But with courts
scheduled to be closed on Tuesday for Election Day and with many
residents still dealing with Sandy's aftermath, state and
federal court officials in Manhattan decided to wait until
Wednesday to impanel new trial juries.
Nevertheless, hundreds of new jurors showed up Monday
morning at both the state and federal courthouses only to be
told to go home.
"We don't even know what's going on," said one court officer
at 100 Centre Street.
"BACK TO NORMAL"
Monday also represented the first day back to work for court
employees whose lives were disrupted by the storm.
Devin Accetta, a court officer with six years of experience,
spent Sunday emptying several feet of water from her flooded
Staten Island home.
"All of my friends helped me throw my whole life into the
back of a garbage truck," she said. "I cried all day."
Accetta and her husband rescued her mother and father Monday
night, as the storm hit and seawater rushed into their
neighborhood at a frightening speed, rising three feet in 12
minutes. Their truck barely escaped through the flooded streets,
stalling several times before making it to higher ground.
"I need to get my life back to normal," she said of her
decision to come to work.
Several other court officers live on Staten Island,
including two who had to be rescued at the height of the storm,
Accetta said. At least one resident in her neighborhood, an
elderly man, died.
"People have put the interests of the justice system before
their own personal interest," Prudenti said. "We have people
coming to work who have lost houses."
The historic week-long shutdown prompted Governor Andrew
Cuomo last week to issue an executive order suspending speedy
trial and other deadlines in criminal, civil and family cases.
Nevertheless, attorneys from the Legal Aid Society claimed
defendants charged with minor offenses like trespassing may have
been jailed for too long because of the storm.
Under state law, prosecutors have five days to file an
information to corroborate certain misdemeanor complaints. The
statute, 170.70 of the state penal code, was not listed in
Cuomo's order but gives judges the right to extend the deadline
for good cause.
In several hearings Monday, the society argued that their
clients should be released under the law, but prosecutors
successfully convinced judges that the storm warranted an
The power outage also forced judges and prosecutors to use
their creativity in handling court hearings that could not wait.
In federal court, judges held conferences under dim
lamplight, while arraignments in the city's criminal court
proceeded in darkened courtrooms.
The Manhattan district attorney's office also was crippled
last week, with the server down and prosecutors' Blackberries
Karen Friedman-Agnifilo, chief of the trial division, helped
run the office from her upstate home, where she had power.
"We did a lot of stuff by text and personal email," she
But not everything could be done by telecommuting.
For arraignments last week, prosecutors used carbon paper to
handwrite between 50 and 100 complaints a day until a generator
was hooked up Friday.
"The biggest logistical hurdle was food," said
Friedman-Agnifilo. "Nothing was open."
The solution, at least for one day: Chief Assistant
District Attorney Daniel Alonso delivered pizza.
(Additional reporting by Casey Sullivan)
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