By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After months of lobbying efforts and negotiations, the state legislature has approved 25 new Family Court judgeships throughout New York State.
The Unified Court System complained in its 2014-2015 budget request that “for five years the Judiciary’s operating budget has been essentially flat,” and that in “the face of this declining funding, the Judiciary has absorbed more than $300 million in increased costs over the past five years,” the request report stated.
Of extreme immediate concern was the severely understaffed Family Court. "Over the past three decades, the caseload of the Family Court has nearly doubled, from 366,000 files a year to more than 698,000 at the end of 2013," former New York State Bar Association President David M. Schraver said in February statement supporting increased judiciary funding. “The lack of judges to hear the overwhelming number of cases involving the safety and well-being of children results in long delays, piecemeal trials, uneven access to justice and a public perception that the forum is ineffectual and unworthy of community confidence," Schraver explained.
With a push from Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti the budget was expanded to include 25 additional judicial positions throughout the state—5 more judgeships than originally requested earlier in the year.
"Judge Prudenti and I are both thrilled and gratified this bill passed," Lippman said in a statement. The measure passed by a vote of 132-2 vote in the Assembly and 57-1 in the Senate. Brooklyn Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn) and state Senator John Bonacic (R-Mt. Hope) introduced the judgeship requests to the respective houses.
"With rising caseloads annually, these additional judges we have sought for decades will serve some of our most important litigants, the children and families in New York State,” said Lippman.
Of the 25 new judgeships, nine are allotted for New York City (presumably including all five boroughs) and the remainder is slated for counties upstate between 2015 and 2016.
It is not clear in which New York City courts the new judges will sit, but it is an improvement and the start down a path of rehabilitation of a reportedly impaired and overburdened court.
“Over the past three decades, the caseload of the Family Court has nearly doubled, from 366,00 filings a year in 1983 to more than 698,000 today,” the Unified Court System’s 2014-2015 budget request noted. “Despite this dramatic growth in the work of the Family Court, few new Family Court judgeships have been established…[n]one have been created in New York City since 1990,” the report further stated.
"We have attempted to handle the heavy, and demanding, workload of this court by assigning quasi-judicial staff to hear certain types of cases," the Judiciary argued in its budget request. "This temporary remedy is no longer sustainable: it is time to do right by the families in crisis that come to this court."
The bill is awaiting the signature of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo. If Cuomo signs the bill, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will have the opportunity to appoint the nine new judges earmarked for the city.