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DA Soares Urges Governor Cuomo to Shut Down Grand Jury Gatherings as COVID-19 Cases Surge

Albany County District Attorney David Soares



Press Release

December 15, 2020



DA Soares Urges Governor Cuomo to


Shut Down Grand Jury Gatherings


as COVID-19 Cases Surge


Grand Jurors Raise Concerns About Being


Forced to Violate NYS Recommendations

ALBANY, NY -  Once again, we find ourselves at the crossroads of public safety and public health. I have in the past commended Governor Cuomo for his leadership and direction in these exceptionally difficult times. Prosecutors across the state have relied on his wisdom throughout these months and moved accordingly to resume operations to the extent supported by the science. I now find myself in the position of having to make the false choice between advocating for victims of crime or continuing to function under conditions exposing our citizens to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With COVID-19 cases at an all-time high in the state, I urge the Governor to re-institute an Executive Order which was in place from March 7th through October 4th, which suspended certain sections of the Criminal Procedure Law in order to protect the “health and welfare” of residents of the state. Without this order, members of the public are required to meet weekly for hours in courthouses across the state in groups of 23 in order to sit as sworn grand jurors. This is occurring in Albany County and every other county at a time when COVID-19 cases are surging. I authored a letter to Administrative Judge for the Third Judicial District Gerald Connolly highlighting my concerns, and included the concerns relayed by a grand juror.

Late last week, I notified the Commissioner of Jurors that a member of my staff tested positive for COVID-19, and that individual had appeared one week prior before the members of our Grand Jury. Our Friday Grand jury proceedings were cancelled and dismissed indefinitely. We are now being put in the position to call 23 new grand jurors to the Courthouse for cases that require “speedy trial” attention.

From March until November 20, 2020, there were zero cases of COVID-19 among members of the staff at the Albany County DA’s Office. Since November 21, 2020, five staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 while many others were placed in precautionary quarantine. While it is not our role to report on COVID-19 events involving staff in other agencies who work in the courthouses across the county, other organizations have experienced similar outbreaks.

Earlier in the year, through interviews and news stories, I gave the citizens of Albany County my full throated assurance that we could and would provide a safe environment for them to discharge their civic responsibilities. I can no longer stand by those assurances and thereby call upon the Governor and the Office of Court Administration to take further necessary actions.

The community spread of this virus has reached a level far more serious than during the “first wave,” yet people are now being expected to meet in-person, in flagrant violation of CDC and State recommended guidelines. I am confident that Governor Cuomo will continue to act with the health and safety of all New Yorkers in mind, and will issue guidance to the Office of Court Administration for immediate action to stop the spread of this virus in our court system.

While the Office of the Albany County District Attorney is currently operating at reduced staffing levels as a result of positive COVID-19 testing and will not have a physical presence in the reception area of our office during the next few weeks, members of the public and our law enforcement partners can still reach staff members during business hours by calling (518) 487-5460.

For more information please contact Cecilia Walsh at (518) 275-4710 or [email protected]