An Essential Service: How Chautauqua County Has Adapted to Provide Criminal Defense Amidst COVID-19 Pandemic

Submitted by gallagha on Tue, 04/07/2020 - 13:26


MAYVILLE, N.Y.:--The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has forced federal, state, and local governments to take immediate measures to prevent the virus's spread. Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order ordering the temporary closure of all “non-essential” businesses. Public Criminal Defense remains one of the operations deemed "essential" under the order. 


Nevertheless, the day-to-day operations within the courts in New York State have changed dramatically. Following Governor Cuomo's executive order, the Office of Courts Administration (OCA) of New York State mandated all Courts within the state to postpone all non-essential matters for a term up to 90 days. For that reason, all courts located in New York and Chautauqua County are temporarily entertaining only emergency criminal, family, and subrogate appearances and procedures.


Under this new arrangement, many (if not all) local town, village, and city courts have adjourned the bulk of their criminal proceedings until at least early May 2020. Judges in County Court hear essential matters such as arraignments during regular hours. Off-hours, the Centralized Arraignment Program still functions to conduct arraignments during evenings and weekends. Attorneys from the Chautauqua County Public Defender Office continue to appear (these days, remotely) to the Centralized Arraignment Program to protect the rights of these individuals.


In addition to limited types of appearances, the measures have substantially changed how parties show up to court. The court appearance of today has rapidly departed from the traditional physical court appearance where all parties-- the judge, the defense attorney, the prosecution, and the accused-- would meet in the courthouse together. Now, accused persons and defense attorneys more frequently appear to the courthouse via Skype or phone. Accused persons now more frequently consult their attorneys by phone, rather than in person, before appearing remotely to court.


In response to the circumstances, the Chautauqua County Public Defender’s Office has adopted different measures to continue providing effective representation to our community. Its offices located in Mayville and Jamestown will remain operative to assist those who need urgent legal representation under these extraordinary circumstances. Also, the Public Defender’s Office is implementing legal assistance by phone or video conference. An online version of its Application for Representation is under development. The Public Defender’s Office encourages the community to visit its webpage on the county website at https://chqgov.com/ or follow it on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/chautauquapublicdefender/; Twitter at https://twitter.com/Chaut_Defender; or Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/chaut_defender/ for updates.


The Public Defender’s Office maintains hours in both locations, Mayville and Jamestown, from Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The phone numbers are (716) 753-4376 (Mayville) and (716) 661-8880 (Jamestown). Contact our office to arrange a phone conference. We are committed to serving our community, even in difficult times, adapting strategic measures to defend the rights of all individuals best.



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