judge-and-gavel, book, reading

Three Brooklyn Supreme Court judges have been transferred to new posts in other boroughs for, according to sources, falling behind on their caseloads, not holding enough trial days and spending too much time away from the bench.

This month, Justices Bruce Balter, Cassandra Mullen and Shawndya Simpson, who each presided over criminal parts, were sent to new posts for “operational” reasons, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, who declined to further elaborate on the reason. 

But sources with knowledge of the process who declined to be identified for this article said absenteeism, number of trial days and the number of cases waiting in the queue in their courts were driving factors for transferring the judges out of Brooklyn Supreme.

While it is common for OCA to shift judges around the court system as needed, transfers tend to occur at the beginning of the year after administrative judges have had the opportunity to meet with OCA brass on Beaver Street in Manhattan to point out where they may need more judicial firepower, the sources said.   

Additionally, since she took office in 2016, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has brought reduction of court backlogs throughout the state, as well as other nuts-and-bolts assessments of judicial performance, into sharp focus via the Excellence Initiative.

Balter has been assigned to a civil part in Queens Supreme Court, while Mullen and Simpson are now presiding over criminal parts in the Bronx and Manhattan, respectively.

Balter declined to comment and referred questions to Chalfen; Mullen and Simpson did not respond to requests for comment.

Mullen presided over one of two specialty “gun parts” formed in Brooklyn more that two years ago as part of a joint initiative by the court system and the New York City government to crackdown on gun violence in the city.

Simpson has also recently been the subject of claims she has lived for years across the Hudson in South Orange, New Jersey. She has stated she maintains her main residence in Brooklyn.

When contacted for comment on the transfers, some Brooklyn attorneys defended the justices’ records and were critical of OCA’s focus on quantitative measures to assess judges’ performance.

Barry Elisofon, who served on the bench from 1976 to 1990 and who practiced mostly as a matrimonial attorney in the subsequent years until becoming semi-retired in 2014, said Balter is a judge who is “very in touch with human emotion” who rendered thoughtful decisions.

Elisofon said it was “disingenuous” to use hard metrics like trial-day counts and backlog sizes to assess judicial performance, as they may not reflect cases in which judges took time to issue thorough and precedent-setting decisions.  

“On something like that you can’t really do that,” Elisofon said. “When a case requires that kind of intensity and you give it, you get a good result.”

Kenneth Montgomery, a Brooklyn solo attorney who previously worked with Simpson when they were both prosecutors for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, said Simpson’s transfer to the Bronx is a loss for Brooklyn—Simpson believed that the “presumption of innocence still meant something” and that, in his experiences before the judge, he said, defendants got a fair shake.  

“She wasn’t a mechanism for the DA’s office, as many judges are,” Montgomery said.