Judges, court administrators and attorneys testified Friday before the New York County Lawyers’ Association’s Judicial Budget Cuts Task Force on the effect of budget cuts and reduced court staffs. Topics addressed during the six-hour hearing ranged from the impact of the cuts on families and children to the effect on the criminal courts and on federal courts.
Surrogate Kristin Booth Glen (See Profile) reported that a reduced staff has stalled initiatives to improve court access. She said, implementation of a pilot mediation program is “slowing down” and a website redesign to assist pro se litigants and attorneys unfamiliar with the Surrogate’s Court has stopped. “We have dreams and our dreams are deferred,” she said, adding later, “there is no time and no energy while we’re cranking out what we’re cranking out to keep the court moving.”
Acting Supreme Court Justice Laura E. Drager (See Profile) said she can no longer conference contested divorce cases during lunch and past the mandatory 4:30 p.m. court closing time. “For me, the greatest impact is how much less time I have to conference cases,” she said. Though contested divorces present “a panoply of issues,” she estimated she can now devote only about 20 minutes to each conference.
Irwin Shaw, attorney-in-charge of the criminal defense division for the Legal Aid Society, noted rising arrest-to-arraignment times, particularly on weekends. In November alone, the average arrest-to-arraignment time was more than 25 hours throughout the five boroughs, he said. “With shorter hours, it diminishes the amount of cases that the system can handle in an appropriate manner,” he said.
Meanwhile, Manhattan Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel R. Alonso said that in the five or six months since the cuts have come into effect, average trial times have climbed, from about five days to seven.