ALBANY – “Hundreds” of nonjudicial employees may lose their jobs due to $70 million in additional cuts imposed on the Judiciary in a state budget to be approved this week, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said yesterday.
Court officials already had offered to cut $100 million from their $2.7 billion budget plan, and they were surprised that the spending deal for the year that begins Friday reached over the weekend demanded more sacrifice.
Judge Lippman said he could not identify where the layoffs would occur or give a more precise number. He said it will depend on where court workers are situated and how crucial employees are to everyday court operations.
Judge Lippman said he remains adamant about keeping open court buildings to all comers, despite the state’s fiscal woes.
“Exactly what the impact is we are going to look at that,” Judge Lippman said in an interview. “The governor is doing his job, the Legislature is doing its job and we have been trying to preserve the other branch of our government. Everyone does their part in the equation but, unfortunately, we do not have our seat at the negotiating table.”
Court administrators had hoped to avoid all but a modest number of layoffs by leaving vacant many positions left open by this year’s early retirement program, freezing hiring and making other economies, such as a suspension in hiring of judicial hearing officers.
But the fiscal picture becomes more bleak with a $170 million—or 6.3 percent—cut, Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau said.
“We will look at everything,” she said. “But I don’t think there is any way we can avoid significant layoffs, given the new cuts.”
The courts employ about 15,200 non-judicial workers, approximate 1,100 less than three years ago.
Judge Pfau held a conference call yesterday with administrative judges to try to devise a plan to deal with the new cuts.
Victor A. Kovner of the Fund for Modern Courts called the proposed $70 million in new cuts “dreadful” for their potential effect on the court system.
Judge Lippman said the number of layoffs could be reminiscent of the temporary cuts of between 400 and 500 in the early 1990s during a showdown over the Judiciary budget between Mr. Cuomo’s father, Mario, and the then-chief judge, Sol Wachtler (NYLJ, April 10, 2007).
That dispute was eventually solved amicably.
Court and union officials were wary yesterday of how a significant slash in court resources could affect them.
Rocco DeSantis, president of the New York State Court Clerks Association, said the court system was already strained from the early retirements.
“As a result of positions left unfilled from early retirement, there are already long lines at every office, both those that deal with the public and back offices,” he said yesterday. “I am concerned that this is going to make a bad situation worse.”
About 150 of the state’s 1,750 court clerks left the system due to last year’s early retirement program, Mr. DeSantis said. Administrators estimate that as of about two weeks ago 91.2 percent in New York City and 93 percent upstate had been replaced.
John Strand of the New York State Supreme Court Officers Association said the projected cuts will affect courthouse operations.
“We are already down hundreds of court officers throughout the state,” Mr. Strand said yesterday. With layoffs, he added, “it is hard not to believe that of necessity court parts, and possibly court houses, will have to be closed.”
Only 89.3 percent of court officer vacancies in the city and 91.3 percent upstate had been filled by mid-March, leaving 390 open officer jobs in all courts.
James F.X. Doyle, president of the New York State County Court Judges Association, said he does not believe there will be adequate security in courthouses to handle both magnetometers and to staff the courtrooms themselves.
“There are already delays and it is going to get more severe,” Mr. Doyle said. “As a result, cases need to get pushed back and calendars become even more crowded and people serve more time while they are waiting to get their cases resolved.”
Cortland County Supreme Court Justice Philip R. Rumsey, the president of the Association of Justices of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, said the courts are being ill-used by the governor and the Legislature.
“The other two branches are requiring the courts to establish ‘worthy programs,’ such as the mandatory settlement conferences in foreclosure cases,” Justice Rumsey said. “But then they are not providing the resources to do what they have required.”
Judge Edwina Richardson-Menderson, administrative judge for the New York City Family Court, said she is “extremely concerned” because hers is “a very vulnerable court and we are already quite pressed.”
But, she said, the court “will have to await the final outcome to determine just what the impact will be.”
Mr. Cuomo emerged Sunday from a week-long series of meetings with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, to announce a deal on a $132.5 billion spending plan.
“State government will have a 10 percent reduction, and it will be shared between the executive, the attorney general’s office, the comptroller’s office and the Office of Court Administration,” Mr. Cuomo said. “We’ve also made an adjustment in [OCA's] budget.”