MAYVILLE – Society is slowly reopening as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and the Chautauqua County Court system, just like everything else here in the United States, is dealing with an unprecedented set of circumstances.
“Everything is moving at a snails pace,” Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson said when discussing the status of the court during an interview Tuesday afternoon with WNYNewsNow. “One, we still have the restrictions that surround the ongoing pandemic, which means we have restrictions on numbers and with social distancing and making sure that people and the environment we are asking these people to come to are safe.”
Swanson says that crime didn’t “cease to exist” during the pandemic despite seeing crime numbers “slow somewhat.”
“People were still allegedly committing offenses, and our caseload piles continue to grow with nowhere to take those cases,” Swanson said. He says local courts will begin to operate in “some form or fashion” next week, with County Court “moving a little bit” and he expects grand jury hearings to begin in July in an effort to do “something” with alleged felony offenses that have occurred since March 15.
“The problem is going to be you can’t just send summons out for 100 people to show up at their local court, or village court, right now,” Swanson said. “I don’t see that happening anytime in the near future. We’re only going to be able to handle a certain number of cases. Unfortunately, it’s frustrating, but that’s just going to have to be how we handle our business for the near future.”
Swanson says that various deadlines involving the right to a speedy trial have been suspended during the pandemic. However, the prosecutor says he has instructed his staff to prioritize their caseload based on “severity and time needs” for grand jury presentation.
Swanson adds that his staff will be limited in the number of cases they can present to the Grand Jury each day because witnesses will need to be screened for symptoms of sickness. He says he’ll be utilizing the Chautauqua County Legislative Chambers so that he can space out all 23 members of a Grand Jury.
“Our priority, first, has got to be the safety of our grand jury, our witnesses, our police officers that are coming in,” Swanson said. “It’s gonna slow everything down, but we have what we feel is a protocol in place to properly manage these cases.”
Swanson credits the work of his staff, saying that “it’s times like these (COVID-19 pandemic)” that shows him the strength of his team.
Swanson says Chautauqua County was one of the first counties in New York State to conduct a virtual preliminary hearing during the pandemic. He says he believes there will be live, in-person hearings in court starting today, but the matters will only involve defendants outside of custody. Those in custody will appear in court virtually.
“Some things are starting to move. We are talking about the difference between a drip and a fire hose,” Swanson said. “We are dripping right now and that’s about it. Hopefully the faucets open a little further and we can start to move things.”
WNYNewsNow will continue to cover the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, putting facts over fear.
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