judge-and-gavel, book, reading

ALBANY -  The New York state Senate and Assembly rejected Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal mandating that judges work eight-hour days.

State Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican who chairs the chamber’s Judiciary committee, told the New York Law Journal that Cuomo’s proposal to have judges certify that their courtrooms stay open until 5 p.m. is a “diss” to all the judges.

“These are professional people, we shouldn’t treat them like schoolkids,” Bonacic said in an interview. “Their jobs are not easy, and we aren’t prepared to demean them in any way from the important work they do.”

In their one-House budget proposals unveiled last week—which lay out each chamber’s budgetary priorities ahead of budget negotiations—both the Republican-led state Senate and the Democratic-dominated Assembly did not include a provision by the Democratic governor requiring judges to certify their hours. The governor’s proposal would have required state-paid judges or justices assigned to trial courts of the state’s Unified Court System to certify each month in a statement that he or she “performed judicial duties at an assigned court location for the full daily period of at least eight hours.”

The Assembly, in its budget proposal said it did not include Cuomo’s proposal for the judiciary because Chief Judge Janet DiFiore is “vested with the authority to adopt such changes without statutory directive from the legislative branch,” according to the proposal.

A spokesman for the state’s Unified Court System previously told the New York Law Journal that such oversight of the judiciary isn’t needed given DiFiore’s commitment to the Excellence Initiative, which seeks to slash chronic backlogs and delays in the state’s courts.

Cuomo’s proposal to have judges certify that they work an eight-hour day, unveiled in his $168.2 billion budget address to the Legislature in January, would be in exchange for what his budgetary department calls a 2.5 percent increase in the judiciary’s budget. Budgets for state agencies under Cuomo’s proposed budget would hold flat and state aid to municipalities would freeze. Health and education spending are the only other areas that have been afforded a spending increase above Cuomo’s 2 percent spending cap in a year when the state is expected to face a $4.4 billion deficit.

Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks said in a statement that “both the Senate and Assembly have now formally expressed their opposition to this proposal. This subject concerns matters within the authority of the judicial branch, and we stand by our prior public statements on the issue.”

The judiciary has maintained that their requested budgetary increase of $44.4 million for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins April 1, is 2 percent, not 2.5 percent, as the governor has said.

Cuomo’s proposal was met with a chilly reception by the judiciary and lawyers, who found that the governor’s proposal was unheard of, and unnecessary. A spokesman for the governor did not immediately reply to a request for comment on this story. 

Bonacic said he’s spoken to Marks and received “assurances” that the judiciary is keeping an eye on areas where judges are closing their courts early and will improve them.

“There’s no question that it was an overreach,” Bonacic said of Cuomo’s judiciary proposal.  “You’ve got the executive branch, the legislative branch and the judiciary and here in his budget he’s going into a branch of government that’s better left within the purview of the judiciary to resolve their in-house problems”

The Orange County Republican added that judges not working eight-hour days isn’t on a “grand scale,” but rather in isolated cases upstate where caseloads are light, “but not enough as a broad brush to diss all the judges.”