NYC Coronavirus Bill Could Land Sheriffs in Jail

An interesting battle is brewing in New York City which illustrates some of the unintended consequences that are occurring across the country as state and local governments seek to try and enact emergency regulations that protect residents who have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

The New York City Council is considering a bill that would prohibit marshals and city sheriffs from confiscating property or assets, including money, to cover unpaid debts. But the sheriff of New York City has said that such a law would place sheriffs and marshals in conflict with existing state law that designate sheriffs as the civil enforcement official of the courts.

New York City Council held a remote hearing on the proposed legislation yesterday, which included the testimony of Sheriff Joseph Fucito. During the hearing, Fucito instructed the council that courts have “repeatedly” held that sheriffs can be penalized for failing to act on an order. Sheriffs who do fail to act on an order can be held in contempt of court and can face fines and indefinite jail time.

The bill, which was sponsored by Corey Johnson, the Speaker of the New York City Council, would be barred from “the taking and restitution of property or the execution of money judgments” unless ordered by the mayor of New York City or the governor of New York, or if the matter is related to an issue in family court. The prohibition would remain in effect until April 2021 for individuals who were affected by COVID-19.

Cities and states have rushed into action to try and protect consumers who have lost their jobs, are working fewer hours, or otherwise been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. But, as in Massachusetts, where regulations put into place by the Attorney General are now being challenged in court by ACA International, the steps being taken should not conflict with other laws or regulations, which could create problems for companies trying to comply.

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