By Charisma L. Miller, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn has been touted as having the busiest courts in New York City. The December 2012 report distributed by the Office of Court Administration further bolsters this presumption -- with more than 54,000 pending civil cases in 2012, Brooklyn’s civil term holds the largest caseload in the state.
Showing the amount of cases filed and disposed throughout the Unified Court System from 2008 through 2012, the December report evidences the efforts of Brooklyn’s judges and personnel as they work to efficiently address caseloads.
In criminal court, Brooklyn has seen the sharpest reduction in its backlog. The desired benchmark for the disposal of felony criminal cases is 180 days. In 2008, Brooklyn had approximately 2,221 pending felony cases for over 180 days. That number sharply fell to 1,660 in 2012.
While the overall numbers appear to show positive developments, however, the amount of cases pending for over two years have increased. In 2008, there were only 99 cases pending. However, that number increased each year, culminating in 139 in 2012 -- a 40 percent increase.
The December 2012 report notes that there is a priority for the dispose of cases over two years, because as a case ages so does the memory of witness. Also, the likelihood of evidence being lost or misplaced increases with time.
“We are gratified that we have been able to reduce the inventory of cases over two years by 21 percent and the median age of pending cases by 5 percent,” noted Barry Kamins, administrative judge for criminal matters for the Second Judicial District. “However, there is still much work to be done. We are hoping to increase the number of trials, and currently we have about 19 of our judges on trial in felony cases.”
The criminal court system with the most difficult backlog issue is the Bronx. The Bronx presently has over 3,000 criminal cases that are more than 180 days old, and more than 900 of these cases are more than two years old.
"This acute backlog of felony cases is entirely unacceptable to all of us in the courts and the entire justice community in Bronx County. It simply cannot continue any longer," New York State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said.
In order to jumpstart the backlog in the Bronx, Lippman enlisted the help of noted Brooklyn Criminal Court Deputy Administrative Judge Patricia Di Mango. She was temporarily reassigned to the Bronx, along with several judges from districts outside of New York City.
Brooklyn’s civil courts have also experienced some success, but the staggering number foreclosures have placed a severe hindrance on case disposition statistics. Of the 54,445 civil cases pending in Brooklyn in 2012, 14,647 of them were foreclosures.
Brooklyn Justice Lawrence Knipel, the new administrative judge for civil matters, told the New York Law Journal that he aims to bring "a fresh eye" to the court and to implement systemic reforms rather than "Band-aids."
Viewing his role as the "the challenge of my lifetime," Knipel reportedly now requires parties to foreclosure settlements to get permission if settlement conferences go beyond four sessions.
With a court system as large as New York’s, New York State chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti told the New York Law Journal, "There will always be concerns. It’s a work in progress."