Family Court in Crisis

A State Bar Association Task Force designed to address issues related to the Family Court system, particularly its impact on children and families, will convene the second of four statewide hearings Wednesday in Manhattan.

The hearing for the Appellate Division First Department will be held from 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the New York County Lawyers’ Association headquarters at 14 Vesey St., near City Hall. The First Department consists of New York and Bronx counties.

“Family Court finds New York children at their most vulnerable — when they are affected by a break-up of their families, domestic violence or criminal behavior. Addressing the problems of family courts is critical,” said New York State Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III. “When the courts don’t have adequate resources to handle a growing caseload, it is children who are affected the most.”

Seymour W. James Jr., of The Legal Aid Society in New York City and president-elect of the State Bar Association, and Stewart Aaron, president of the New York County Lawyers’ Association, will make opening remarks at Wednesday’s hearing.

The task force plans hearings for the Second and Fourth Departments in Long Island and Buffalo, respectively, in March. The first hearing, for the Third Department, was held in Albany on Dec. 1. The Second Department consists of 10 downstate counties, including Kings, Richmond, Queens, Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Rockland, and Putnam. The Appellate Division Second Department courthouse is located on Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights.

“We collected a tremendous amount of valuable information from the judges, attorneys, government officials and advocates at the Albany hearing. We hope to gain equally enlightening perspectives at the New York City hearing,” said Susan B. Lindenauer, former counsel to the president and attorney-in-chief of The Legal Aid Society of New York City. She co-chairs the task force with Broome County Family Court Judge Mary Rita Connerton.

Among those expected to testify Wednesday are family court judges and others affiliated with the courts, local bar associations, legal service providers, government officials, private practitioners and organizations serving children, families and battered women. See below for a complete list of Wednesday’s speakers.

Written testimony can be submitted to the task force at One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207. The task force will use the hearings’ testimony to complement its research and provide additional insight into the problems and solutions. Its preliminary report will be issued in June, the final report in November. The report will be forwarded to Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti and others for consideration.

The 35-member Task Force on the Family Court was formed in 2010 to identify key areas for improving Family Court across the state. Four subcommittees are addressing resources for litigants; resources for the courts; operations, case management, and staffing; and technology.

Family-court caseloads burgeoned during the last decade, most notably in the areas of child custody, visitation and child support. The family courts handled 720,850 court filings in 2010, compared to 683,390 in 2001, according to the Office of Court Administration. In New York City, the caseload was 246,266 in 2010, up from the 226,544 in 2001.

Despite rising caseloads — including a record 742,365 statewide in 2009 — only four new Family Court judgeships have been created statewide since 1999, and none in New York City since 1991. The following is a list of confirmed and invited speakers for the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on the Family Court hearing, Appellate Division, First Department, on Wednesday, January 11, 2012, at the NYCLA offices in Manhattan.

 

Today’s Confirmed Speakers:

 

• Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, Administrative Judge for New York City Family Courts
 

• Douglas Hoffman, Supervising Judge, New York County Family Court
 

• Ana Bermudez, Deputy Commissioner for Juvenile Operations, New York City Department Probation
 

• Angela Albertus, Deputy Chief Corporation Counsel, Family Court, New York City Law Department
 

• Kathie E. Davidson, Supervising Judge, Family Court Ninth Judicial District
 

• Michele Cortese, Center for Family Representation, Inc.
 

• Melanie Hart, Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT)
 

• James Purcell, Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies (COFCCA)
 

• Jane Golden, Council on Children, New York City Bar Association
 

• George Reed, Jr.
 

• Janette Cortes-Gomez, Bronx Family Bar Association
 

• Ronald E. Richter, Commissioner, NYC Administration for Children’s Services
 

• Tamara A. Steckler, Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Division
 

• Dennis Hawkins, Fund for Modern Courts
 

• Karen P. Simmons, Children’s Law Center
 

• Emily Ruben, Legal Aid Society, Brooklyn Neighborhood Office
 

• Mary Rothwell Davis, Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services, Sanctuary for Families
 

• Barbara Finkelstein, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley
 

• Pamela Sheininger, Court Attorney Referee, New York County Family Court
 

Invited, as of Monday:
 

• Monica A. Drinane, Supervising Judge, Bronx Family Court
 

• Kara Finck, Bronx Defenders