The Legal Services Staff Association, NOLSW/UAW 2320, and the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys, UAW 2325, together represent the unionized indigent legal service legal workers at a dozen providers in New York City, Orange County, and Nassau County. Our unions exist to empower our members and elevate low-income New Yorkers in their fight for racial, social, and economic justice. We fight for people facing eviction, people fighting to obtain or preserve public benefits, children and parents involved in the child welfare system, immigrants facing deportation, indigent children and adults involved in the criminal legal system, and those with HIV/AIDS.
Many of our clients or their family members are immunocompromised or are in other high-risk categories for coronavirus. Illness, coronavirus exposure, or caretaking for others may impact our clients’ ability to make court dates or other important appointments.
Thus, as New York works to prevent and address the spread of coronavirus, we urge the Office of Court Administration, the Human Resources Administration, the Department of Corrections, the Administration for Children’s Services, the Bureau of Prisons, immigration courts and offices (EOIR, USCIS and ICE), and other state and local entities to take the following steps:
*Parties to court proceedings may through no fault of their own be unable to come to court. The Office of Court Administration must instruct courts to stay warrants of evictions, adjourn cases rather than issuing defaults, and adjourn criminal court cases for individuals who do not appear. Incarcerated defendants should be given the option to make court appearances by video and meet with their attorneys via videoconferencing.
*The Human Resources Administration should similarly not penalize public assistance recipients who are unable to appear for a face-to-face recertification or other such appointment. All courts and agencies should be liberal in granting adjournments and requests for additional time, and should for the foreseeable future adjourn cases rather than issuing defaults.
*The Administration for Children’s Services must make every effort to avoid placing children in congregate care. Further, ACS must have a comprehensive testing protocol, and a public safety plan if congregate placement does occur. ACS should work with foster care agencies to ensure children receive age appropriate sanitation instructions, and that all foster homes, congregate homes, and family visit locations have access to soap and hand sanitizer.
*The Department of Corrections and Bureau of Prisons must have public, comprehensive testing protocols, and public contingency plans if individuals in congregate settings test positive for coronavirus. Quarantined individuals must be held at hospitals rather than jails.
*To protect everyone’s health, the courts, agencies, detention centers, and jails must ensure that high-traffic and high-touch surfaces are cleaned and disinfected as frequently as possible, and communicate their sanitation plan to the public.
We all want to keep our courts, offices, parties to cases, and the general public safe, and believe these measures will go a long way to protecting everyone during this time