Judge Juanita Bing Newton (Rick Kopstein/NYLJ)
Eight years after a popular summer training program for judges was canceled due to budget constraints, the judicial seminar has been revived with $3 million from the court system.
About 450 judges have signed up for the four-day program, which starts June 19 and will be repeated starting July 24. The seminar is open to all judges who are paid by the state; town and village court justices are not eligible.
The training is organized by the New York State Judicial Institute, which is housed at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University in White Plains. This year, however, the sessions are being held at a hotel in the Hudson Valley, according to Judge Juanita Bing Newton, dean of the Judicial Institute.
Newton said judges will receive training that supports the Excellence Initiative, launched by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore in 2016 with a prevailing theme of “justice delayed is justice denied.”
The 11-hour daily sessions will seek to help judges improve not only decision-making abilities but also their managerial skills. “The case loads are crushing in some areas,” Newton said. “We want to make sure people get their day in court.”
The sessions cover updates in different areas of the law—civil, criminal, family, housing, matrimonial, medical malpractice, commercial and appellate matters—and significant legal developments. Newton said topics will range from evaluating evidence to handling difficult lawyers and litigants.
Bronx Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon, the administrative judge for civil and criminal matters in the 12th Judicial District, welcomed the return of the summer seminar.
“It’s very hard for judges upstate, even judges downstate, to get the kind of training that the Judicial Institute gives,” he said. “What’s more, it promotes a sense of collegiality that brings people from different courts together and allows people to get to know one another that goes beyond the training. If you have a question on a case, you’re more apt to call someone you’ve met or heard lecture.”
Judges are required by court rule to take 24 hours of continuing legal education courses ever two years (Rules of the Chief Judge, Part 17). Judges can attend shorter sessions throughout the year at the Judicial Institute and around the state, or take a webinar from some of the 300 training videos the institute has created, Newton said.
Until the 2008-2009 fiscal year, the court system conducted three week-long seminars at the Judicial Institute. In the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the five-day seminars were cut to three days. Two of the seminars were held at the institute, but the third was held in Syracuse to reduce travel and housing costs, saving about $1.5 million (NYLJ, June 17, 2010).
After that, the court system experienced deep funding cuts that led to layoffs, hiring freezes, overtime reductions, shorter courthouse hours and other austerity measures. The court system continued to offer training for newly elected and appointed judges.
As state funding gradually grew, austerity programs have been rolled back and programs, such as the summer judicial seminar, have been reinstated.
Before the seminar ended, about 1,000 judges attended annually. McKeon noted that there now is a whole generation of judges who will be experiencing the summer training program for the first time.
“You got almost a decade of judges who have never gone to one of these things—they joined the bench when money was tight,” he said. “From that perspective alone, its going to be very, very interesting because they really don’t know what to expect, and it’s going to be worthwhile.”