Justice Obus (NYLJ/Rick Kopstein)
Acting Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus, who has overseen the courts that handle Manhattan felonies for eight years, is being replaced due to “philosophical differences” with the Office of Court Administration, a spokesman for the agency confirmed Thursday.
Lucian Chalfen said in an interview that Obus’ one-year appointment as administrative judge of the criminal term of New York County Supreme Court would not be renewed. He said a replacement hasn’t been selected yet, and that Obus would remain in the post until someone else was named after the first of the year.
The action does not affect Obus’ status as a trial judge, where Chalfen said he does an “excellent job.”
Chalfen would not elaborate on OCA’s differences with Obus, and said Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks would not comment further.
The conflict apparently began to build after incoming Chief Judge Janet DiFiore launched what she called “muscular” new initiative to curb backlogs and other “troublesome” inefficiencies in court operations (NYLJ, March 31).
Individual administrative judges met with Marks, on whom DiFiore said she was depending to “drill down” into court operations.
Obus declined in a brief interview Thursday to discuss his differences with OCA. He said he had enjoyed his time as administrative judge, but “it was the chief judge’s prerogative” to remove him.
As of Dec. 4, there were 3,913 felonies awaiting disposition in Manhattan. According to statistics provided by OCA, pending cases in the borough increased 7 percent between the end of 2011 and 2015 and 2 percent between 2014 and 2015.
Pending cases over two years old declined between 2011 and 2015, but those between 181 and 365 days old as well as those between 366 and 730 days increased.
Fifty-two percent of pending cases—2,028 felonies—had exceeded state standards and goals by the beginning of this month.
Jury and non-jury trials showed a substantial decline between 2011 and 2015 and 2014 and 2015. Filings were down between 2011 and 2015 but rose between 2014 and 2015.
A graduate of Columbia Law School, Obus, who is now 68, worked at the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County from 1973 to 1986, finishing as Appeals Bureau head.
Mayor Edward Koch appointed him to the New York City Criminal Court in 1986, and he served on that court in Manhattan and in the Bronx. In 1993, he was named an acting Supreme Court justice.
He became administrative judge of the Manhattan Supreme Court’s criminal term in 2008.
In announcing the appointment, then-Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau said she was “delighted” that he had accepted the “critical” assignment.
“During his lengthy career on the bench in Manhattan’s Criminal and State Supreme Courts, he has become known for his great intellect, vision and unstinting dedication to justice,” Pfau said in a 2007 statement.
Chalfen would not speculate about the reaction to Obus’ removal, but the judge is well-thought of, and two court observers said other judges and court personnel were surprised and upset by the move.
As administrative judge, Obus earns a stipend of $6,900 in addition to his $193,000 judicial salary.