MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County Court is entering Phase Four of the New York State Unified Court System reopening plan today.
Chautauqua County District Attorney Patrick Swanson tells WNYNewsNow that the Office of Court Administration (OCA) is working to begin in-person hearings.
“That all being said, it’s going to be slow,” Swanson said. “There’s a lot of cases that are outstanding that need to have the defendants arraigned, including traffic tickets, misdemeanors and any felony offenses that were eligible for appearance tickets. It’s going to take some time to get through those with, I would say, truncated calendars because these local courts don’t have large facilities. They’re going to have to limit the number of people they’re calling in, and even when those people do come in, I would suspect those procedures are going to be moving more slowly because of distancing requirements, sanitation requirements.”
“Everything is going to move more slowly, and that’s going to be on top of this unprecedented backlog that we have.”
Swanson says his office has nearly 50 cases that his office needs to present to a Grand Jury, which he says he “ideally” hopes to start convening on July 15. The County’s top prosecutor adds that he hopes to present four cases a day, one or two days a week.
In addition, Swanson says his office will also need to handle other cases that his team receives.
The Unified Court System website says courts in Phase Four can begin hearing a limited number of bench trials in civil and criminal matters. Swanson says that criminal bench trials, however, only occur in New York State when a defendant requests a bench trial, which he says “rarely” happens in Chautauqua County.
Swanson says he’s not aware of any scheduled bench trials in Chautauqua County.
Swanson says he believes the OCA is continuing internal discussions regarding the health and safety procedures for those called to serve on a trial jury. However, he says he’d “foster a guess” that procedures won’t be fully developed in the near future.
WNYNewsNow asked Swanson for the hearing statuses of Jamestown men Tavion L. Turner, 21, and Julio E. Montanez, 26, both of whom are charged with second-degree murder in separate criminal cases. (Montanez was additionally indicted on two counts of second-degree attempted murder.)
Swanson says his office has Skype conferences on both of those matters later in July.
Swanson adds that a sentencing for Rance Freeman, 32, hasn’t been scheduled. Freeman previously plead guilty to first-degree manslaughter in connection with the 2008 homicide of Westfield man Jeffrey Johnson.
Freeman can’t appear in court for a sentencing at this time because courts can only hold a sentencing hearing for those who aren’t in custody, according to Swanson. Swanson says a virtual sentencing “won’t suffice.”
WNYNewsNow will continue to follow for more details on the court reopening.