December 5, 2021

Problems surface as courts limit their workload

It was about two months ago when 11-year-old Freya Johns, the daughter of Cortland resident Gary Johns, went to a friend’s house. Her mother thought Freya might have come into contact with someone who had coronavirus, Johns said.

The mother, who Johns would not name, then had Freya self-isolated in the mother’s house in Freeville for two weeks, Johns said.

He was fine with this, but when two weeks passed, Freya’s mother delayed returning Freya, which Gary Johns said violated his visitation rights.

“I understand her concerns, but how do I go without seeing my daughter?” he said.

Normally, Family Court would adjudicate such matters, but most court operations in New York have ceased during the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, Johns said he doesn’t know when he might get to see Freya.

Johns did not provide contact information for the mother.

Since mid-March, only cases that have been deemed essential by the Office of Court Administration have been carried out in the state, said David C. Alexander, a Cortland County judge. In family courts, this means cases involving neglect of a child or violating orders of protection.

For criminal courts, these have been cases involving violence or drugs. The suspect can be arraigned, but pretrial hearing and trial itself will be postponed, said Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti.

Work between defense attorneys and prosecutors has mostly been about discussing plea agreements or whether the case should go to trial, Alexander said.

Defendants can still speak with attorneys in regard to making applications for their bail status to be reviewed, he said.

The shift in work has given Perfetti and his staff time to respond to bail reviews and work on getting packages of evidence ready for the defense to review, Perfetti said.

All of his cases, including the trial of Raymond Cole Jr., accused of drugging, raping and holding a woman captive in his home last year, have been postponed to the first week of May at the earliest, with others in June.

The trial, which began March 9, was postponed March 24 as one juror had been in contact with a person who had tested positive for the coronavirus.

“I’m just looking at the scheduling as being somewhat tentative,” Perfetti said.

Johns filed paperwork earlier this week with the Tompkins County Family Court about his claim and is awaiting a response from a judge.

He said he understood why the mother might be preventing Freya from seeing him, perhaps if Freya had COVID- 19 or was exposed to someone with COVID-19. but Johns said she hasn’t been tested and that it’s taking a toll on their other daughter, Renesmee, 9, who primarily lives with Johns.

“It’s stressful,” he said. “It’s not just hurting me. It’s hurting my youngest daughter.”

But as his case isn’t deemed essential and there is no date for when courts will fully reopen, Johns said he wasn’t sure of what to do next.

“I’m just kind of spinning my wheels here,” he said. “I’m kind of just stuck. My hands are tied.”