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FACDL: ‘All those who participate in the criminal justice system’ should be prioritized for vaccines at some point

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After seniors, high-risk individuals, health-care workers, first responders, and school workers are protected

CoronavirusThe Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is asking Gov. Ron DeSantis not to forget private lawyers and their clients when the courts become a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.

FACDL President Mitchell Stone urges DeSantis in a February 1 letter to prioritize “all those who participate in the criminal justice system, including all attorneys, judges and defendants.”

Stone posted the letter through the regular mail, and says it’s too early to expect a response.

The letter is also addressed to Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch and Florida Surgeon General Scott Rivkees.

Stone anticipates that at some point, judges, court workers, state attorneys, and public defenders will be considered a vaccine priority — after seniors, high-risk individuals, health-care workers, first responders, and school workers are protected.

When that happens, private defense attorneys, prison and jail workers, and inmates should also be a priority, Stone said. Not doing so will leave courtrooms at risk, he said.

“My goal was to put us on the radar, so that when this decision is made, that it is consistent across the board, so that we can safely reopen the courtrooms for jury trials,” Stone said.

Stone acknowledges that vaccinating defendants may not be a popular notion, but many are remanded to a “COVID-rich environment” before trial, without guilt being established. And jail inmates interact regularly with private defense counsel, he said.

“Ninety-nine percent of people in the criminal justice system at one point have been in jail,” he said.

Stone was recently waiting for a jailed client to appear for a Zoom hearing when he was told that it would have to be cancelled because the client was in quarantine.

“As they identify people who have been exposed, they can’t even get in front of a camera,” he said. “We just keep kicking the can down the road.”

Many criminal matters are being resolved via Zoom, Stone said, adding that he participates in Zoom hearings every day. But he said complex criminal jury trials are piling up until the courts can return to normal operations. Stone has four clients awaiting trial in state court and one awaiting a federal trial.

“I analogize it to we’ve got a clogged drain,” he said. “And the minute we can unclog that drain, judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers are going to be working around the clock.”

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