October 19, 2021

Courts reopening, with some changes

As courts in Cortland County ramp up their activities — they never fully closed for the coronavirus pandemic -expect to see some changes: Plexiglas, sanitizer, temperature screenings and much more space.

Like other businesses and organizations, courts began reducing operations and the admittance of people when the coronavirus pandemic took hold of the state in March.

In Cortland County, one trial was stopped mid-procedure, and other cases were delayed entirely.

“Early on we scaled back to emergency/essential matters that were handled virtually,” said Lucian Chalfen, spokesman for the state Unified Court System, in an email. “Over the last few weeks we have been slowly and methodically increasing in-person operations and appearances.”

Courthouses and courtrooms have been fitted with Plexiglas partitions and all employees have access to masks, sanitizer and gloves, he said.

Further, all employees and court attendees are subject to temperature screenings. Anyone who has a temperature of 100 degrees will be refused entry.

“Our top priority is keeping all judges, non-judicial employees and court officers safe and secure in their work environment,” Chalfen said.

Cortland County District Attorney Patrick Perfetti said his office was still working during the courts’ reduced operations, including bail reviews and working on packages of evidence for defense attorneys to review.

“Just because the courts have not been opened doesn’t mean we weren’t working,” he said.

Most of this work didn’t require new methods of completion since most of it was done digitally.

“All of those things have been going quite irrespective of the pandemic,” he said.

The order in which cases will be addressed will be based on their date of filing and whether the defendant was incarcerated.

Currently, Perfetti is only dealing with one trial. That of Raymond Cole Jr., which was halted March 23.

Cole, 59, was indicted July 19 and accused of drugging, raping and holding a 34-year-old woman captive in his 13 Brown Ave., Cortland, residence from May 30 to June 3, 2019.

Police reports said the woman reported being locked in a basement closet, injected about 30 times with a “bath salt” type drug called Molly and was raped daily.

The trial is scheduled to resume Monday.

Other notable cases delayed by the pandemic include those of Brian S. Sanders and Zachary Clark.

Sanders, then 26, of 6594 Route 281, Preble, was charged in September with first-degree assault and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, felonies, accused of beating a man so severely on Main Street in Cortland the victim was sent to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse in critical condition. Perfetti said Sanders is waiting for grand juries to reconvene.

Clark, 26, was charged in late March with four felonies following a 12-hour standoff with police following a police shooting on Elm Street.

Those were first-degree assault, aggravated assault on a police or peace officer, first-degree reckless endangerment and menacing a police or peace officer.

Police said Clark shot an officer and then proceeded to have a 12-hour standoff with police in late March at his home on Elm Street in Cortland.

No date has been set for his next appearance.