The Appeal

New York City Public Defenders Oppose Resuming In-Person Court Appearances

The advocates describe the reopening as unsafe and unnecessary amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full piece in The Appeal

On Monday morning, around 100 protesters, led by lawyers, social workers, legal support staff, and union representatives from public defender agencies, marched from the Kings County Supreme Court’s criminal courthouse in Downtown Brooklyn to its civil courthouse. It was New York City’s 53rd consecutive day of mass demonstrations against policing, racism, and other societal injustices, and legal advocates were taking the fight to their arena.

Two weeks earlier, the New York State Unified Court System announced it would begin lifting COVID-19-related restrictions on court procedures and resume some in-person hearings in New York City courthouses. The court system has begun implementing the plan as of July 15.

Advocates who organized the march say that the reopening plan is a political ploy that puts lives in jeopardy and, because of the pandemic, does not substantially alter the way the courts are functioning. In the protesters’ eyes, the government’s haste reflects a carceral mindset that fails to protect them and their clients from harm.

“Over three dozen of our members contracted COVID-19 because the courts were too slow” to shut down in the beginning of the pandemic, Jared Trujillo, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, told the crowd before they marched. “We are here to tell the city and tell the [courts] that we care about our clients, we care about Black lives, and it’s time for you to do your damn jobs and care about them, too.”

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