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Brown gives update on courts

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County District Attorney’s Office on Monday provided county legislators a COVID-19 update regarding the assumption of area courts with in-person appearances, as well as grand juries.

District Attorney Chad Brown briefed the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee. He noted a period in which there are scaled down courts, disincentives for pleas, arrest increases, and uncertainty over future trials.

After the state was basically shut down from COVID-19, Brown stated: “We transitioned to Skype for any [court] appearances we could do.”

But the district attorney noted that in May and June, there have started to be in-person court appearances again.

“Now we have pretty much transitioned into that,” he said.

Brown said the court situation during the pandemic has taken on space restrictions in the courtroom, with shorter court calendars. He said that is the case especially for Gloversville and Johnstown city courts.

“We can’t do vehicle and traffic [cases], really,” Brown said.

Town courts in Fulton County have different limitations because many are so small anyway, he said. He said some are only at 25 percent capacity, which only allows five or six people inside at a time.

Brown said his office received judicial permission to resume a Fulton County grand jury that was impaneled before the pandemic started. He said it started in January and recently “finished things up” after six months. He said it was probably the longest serving grand jury in Fulton County history.

“We are now moving to impanelment [again],” he said. “We’re the first [county] in the judicial district to renew grand jury procedures.”

In the next few weeks, Brown said the county will see more people interviewed to impanel as potential grand jurors.

During the quarantine – from April to now – he said arrests in Fulton County are on the rise. He didn’t provide figures.

“They have substantially increased,” he said.

But Brown said a local criminal justice “major concern” currently is he has no idea when there will be a jury trial. During these times after arrest and before trial, he said there exists no “incentive” for a defendant to reach a plea agreement with his prosecutor’s office.

“It’s kind of creating a backlog on us,” the district attorney said. “Hopefully, we can get to this next stage.”

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.

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