Trials Resume Again in Erie County Superior Courts

Modified: April 14, 2021 12:40pm

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Erie County District Attorney John J. Flynn announces that jury trials will resume next week in Erie County Court and State Supreme Court as part of a phased re-opening of in-person court procedures.

Bench trials resumed earlier this week with prosecutors presenting their case against Donald A. Berner before Erie County Court Judge Sheila A. DiTullio. Berner, age 57, of Alden was indicted on one count of Leaving the Scene of an Accident Resulting in Injury (Class “E” felony). On November 15, 2019, the defendant hit a pedestrian with his vehicle on Ransom Road in the Town of Lancaster and left the scene without reporting the incident. The pedestrian was injured. Judge DiTullio found the defendant guilty of the lesser included offense of one count of Leaving the Scene of an Incident Without Reporting, Personal Injury (Class “A” misdemeanor). He is scheduled to be sentenced on Wednesday, May 26, 2021 at 9:30 a.m. He remains released on his own recognizance. The case was prosecuted by Chief Paul J. Glascott.

Jury selection will resume on Monday. To limit the number of people inside the Erie County Court building, only one criminal case will be presented to a jury per week until further notice. The Court scheduled jury trials by prioritizing cases based on the defendant’s date of arrest and the anticipated length of the trial. Older criminal cases that could be presented to a jury in one week or less were scheduled first.

The People v. Najeeb Shabazz Jackson is the first criminal case to be presented to a jury this year. The defendant, age 26, of Buffalo was indicted by a Grand Jury on two counts of Attempted Murder in the Second Degree (Class “B” violent felonies) and two counts of Attempted Assault in the First Degree (Class “C” violent felonies). It is alleged that on Sunday, August 4, 2019, at approximately 4:20 a.m., the defendant intentionally drove his vehicle into the entrance of “Bottoms Up,” a nightclub located on West Chippewa Street in the City of Buffalo, with the intent to kill or injure those inside. Two individuals were struck by the vehicle and suffered minor injuries. The trial will take place in the ceremonial courtroom of the Erie County Court building before Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan. This case will also be prosecuted by Chief Glascott and Assistant District Attorney Christopher M. McCarthy of the DA’s Vehicular Crimes Bureau. Opening statements are expected to begin on March 24, 2021.

Since the start of the pandemic, only one criminal jury trial was completed in Erie County before the Office of Court Administration ordered that all trials again be postponed due to an increase in COVID-19 positive cases in New York State in November 2020.

It is the policy of the Office of Court Administration that anyone who enters the Erie County Court building must wear a mask at all times. All court staff and visitors must undergo a temperature check and verbal screening to enter the building. Anyone who has a temperature of 100 degrees or higher and/or fails the verbal screening will not be permitted to enter the courthouse. Per the Governor’s Executive Order, individuals who have traveled outside of New York State will not be permitted to enter the building until after self-quarantining for a period of ten days. Every courtroom, including the Grand Jury, has reduced seating capacity to safely comply with social distancing requirements.

Jury selection will take place in the jury assembly room inside the Erie County Court building. If a juror fails a health screening question or becomes ill, they should not report to the courthouse and should contact the Commissioner of Jurors. If this should happen, the judge will be notified and the trial will be adjourned.

Seating capacity has been reduced in every courtroom to comply with social distancing requirements. Jurors will be directed to sit in designated seats. A second courtroom will be used as a jury breakroom and space for deliberation.

Attorneys, jurors, witnesses and all others who enter the courthouse are encouraged to clean their hands regularly. Hand sanitizer is available in all courtrooms and throughout the court building. Disposable gloves will also be available upon request. Courtrooms will undergo a strict cleaning procedure prior to the commencement of the trial and at the close of each trial day. Disinfectant will be available to sanitize podiums, microphones and the counsel table during the course of the trial.