Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A backlog of cases in Brooklyn Surrogate Court has been alleviated by the expertise of Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Bruce Balter, assigned to help since late February.
Since then, according to the Office of Court Administration, Justice Balter has moved at least 50 of the older cases, Those cases, and others being concluded currently, were part of the backlog of uncontested probate proceedings and letters of administration, allowing many estates, some of which were indigent, to proceed with lawsuits vital to the estates.
The backlog in Surrogate’s Court in part reflects a larger issue of Kings County’s position as perhaps the busiest court system in the U.S. But it also resulted from what was reported in the New York Law Journal as a communication problem between the two sitting Surrogates, Margarita Lopez Torres and Diana Johnson.
In the Law Journal article, Surrogate Lopez Torres issued a statement that said, in part, “The cases that were referred to Justice Balter were uncontested matters that arose from conflicts affecting one of the surrogates in which she had to recuse herself … Surrogates Johnson and Lopez Torres have worked out an arrangement that will resolve this situation, obviating the need for the further involvement of Justice Balter.”
Surrogate Lopez Torres further added, referring to her fellow Surrogate Johnson, that “we have a collegial relationship and are able to make decisions on matters necessary to the court.”
Administrative Judge Lawrence Knipel, Civil Term, Kings County, told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “Yes, Brooklyn IS one of the busiest courts in the entire nation. But overall, we handle it very well with the most dedicated staff one could imagine. Sometimes the public does not get to see the great efforts we make to administer justice fairly and expeditiously in these tough economic times.”
When Justice Bruce Balter was brought into Surrogate Court to help move cases, he carried with him a direct connection to the spirit of the late, great Judge Nathan Sobel, hailed as one of New York’s best Surrogate Judges ever. When Judge Sobel died in 1997 at the age of 91, his character and dedication to the bench were hailed in many prestigious publications, including the New York Times and the New York Law Journal. Balter not only trained under Sobel directly, he had, in effect , known the legendary judge as a family friend from youth.
Balter was also recipient of the coveted Nathan Sobel Award by the Brooklyn Bar Association, named for the legendary surrogate. Many court observers who backed the OCA decision to bring Balter into the Surrogate Court noted that he is one of Brooklyn’s best experts on “T&E” — Trusts and Estates, and he chairs the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Surrogate’s Court Committee.
Working under Sobel as a court attorney and referee when Sobel was surrogate, Balter gained much of the expertise that, today, makes him much in demand as a CLE – Continuing Legal Education — lecturer.
Court officials at OCA are still evaluating the backlog of cases at Brooklyn Surrogate Court, some of which had extended back into 2009. Justice Balter, still maintaining an active calendar in Kings County Supreme, Criminal Term, will continue to serve also as a surrogate judge for an unforeseen time period, with the support of Chief Administrative Judge Gail Prudenti.