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Westchester Courtroom Arches

April 6, 2020 - A Message from District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr.: “The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge every government system but we are finding ways to rise to those challenges in our continuing efforts to keep Westchester safe. The criminal justice system was not designed for an atmosphere in which people, including defendants, judges, witnesses, victims, court officers, juries and the public, are not in close proximity to others. But that is not today’s reality. We have been told by health and government leaders we must distance ourselves to help stop the spread of this deadly disease. That means necessary changes to the way things have traditionally have been done.

Our colleagues in law enforcement, the courts and the criminal defense bar are working together to try to limit exposure to individuals who have the coronavirus. Over the past couple weeks, over 40 city, town and village courts were consolidated into one courtroom in the Westchester County Richard J. Daronco Courthouse in White Plains with one judge and support staff, along with security by NYS Court Officers as always. At the same time, all County Court matters were consolidated similarly.

Even those changes have presented new challenges because if one person in the courtroom on a particular day tested positive for COVID-19 then a whole group of people could have been put at risk and ordered to self-quarantine. To address this public health issue, the State Courts have outlined “Virtual Court Protocols,” which officially began here in the Ninth Judicial District as of Monday, April 6, 2020, to allow virtual court appearances via Skype. Under the new process, the court clerk in the courtroom establishes the Skype connection and sends the Skype link to the DA’s Office, the designated judge, defense counsel and the arresting agency to permit the remote court appearance of all parties.

Last week, we were granted permission to test the system. As a result, last Monday, Westchester opened its first two virtual courtrooms, with a number of arraignments already completed. While this is still a work in progress, we are grateful for the willingness of all parties involved to make it a success.

As for our staff, we continue to cover essential duties in person where necessary, but most are working remotely. We have closed our local branches in New Rochelle, Mount Vernon and Yonkers because of exposure to the virus and are monitoring our other offices. Some staff are in self-quarantine. Our administrators and technical support staff have been working around the clock to keep networks running and to help make this process as seamless as possible.

On a personal note, I know this unprecedented time is hard on everyone. I thank all my staff for putting the safety of Westchester first. I know I speak for all of us when I say thanks, too, to all the leaders and other essential workers here in the County who are keeping the wheels of government turning. We also thank those who are keeping mass transit running, our communities clean, our streets and homes safe, our food available and our children educated. I also thank those who are caring for children whose parents must work outside the home and for supporting the elderly and those with special needs. Most of all, though it doesn’t seem like enough, our biggest thank you goes to those working on the front lines in medical roles¬¬–all doctors, nurses, EMTs and support personnel¬. They are putting themselves at risk to fight this insidious disease which has taken so many lives and turned our world upside down.

Meanwhile, stay safe! Stay healthy!”