70 New York Judges Went on a Montauk Retreat. 20 Came Down With Covid.
More than 70 New York City judges descended on a Long Island resort last week to enjoy an annual three-night retreat. In the days after, 20 tested positive for Covid-19.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for New York’s courts, confirmed Wednesday that the judges had tested positive. He said that, to his knowledge, none of the judges were seriously ill, and that those who were symptomatic had not reported to work.
Those who were without symptoms, he said, were allowed to return to work, provided that they wear masks, as is required in public areas of the courtroom. He did not have information on how many asymptomatic judges were back on the bench, but said that they were all vaccinated, as protocol required.
“Any effect that this would have on cases or operations is negligible or nonexistent,” he said. “You’re talking about less than 20 people out of hundreds of judges in New York City.”
The retreat was at Gurney’s Montauk Resort and Seawater Spa and involved a number of activities for the criminal court judges association, whose members include appointed criminal court judges and those elevated to serve as acting State Supreme Court justices.
One of those activities, according to a person with knowledge of the event, was a karaoke session, during which several judges were particularly enthusiastic.
(Singing, with its heavy outflow of breath and saliva droplets, has been noted as a potential source of virus spread, with outbreaks among some choirs reported in the pandemic’s early months.)
New York’s courts have been slow to recover from the pandemic. In the summer of 2020, the number of pending cases in the city’s criminal courts rose to 39,200, and two years later, the backlog is far from cleared, even as cases involving guns have been expedited. It has delayed trials and other proceedings and left many people stranded in jail.
In one example of the impact of the pandemic on the backlog, Steve J. Martin, a federal monitor who oversees the operations at the Rikers Island jail complex, said in a letter filed with a federal court on Tuesday that 28 percent of the population at Rikers had been in custody for longer than a year and that close to 300 people had been in custody for longer than three years. He implored the Office of Court Administration, along with other criminal justice stakeholders, to work toward easing the backlog.
Within state courthouses, masks are required. But compliance with that rule is sporadic, and judges, court officers and other court employees can often be seen with masks on their chins, around their necks or absent entirely.
Last month, the state court system announced that it planned to fire more than 100 nonjudicial employees who had not complied with a vaccine mandate policy. Four judges had also chosen not to comply, two in New York City and two outside it. Any judge who refused to comply with the mandate would be barred from entering a court facility, and compelled to work from home, Mr. Chalfen said at the time.