Press Releases

New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges

Released March 5, 2014

For Immediate Release: March 5, 2014 Contacts: Elysia Murphy emurphy@cccnewyork.org (212) 673-1800 x 18 & Dennis Hawkins, Hawkins@moderncourts.org, (917)-399-4675

Albany, New York: The New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges, a coalition of over 80 organizations from across the state, will be in the Capitol today advocating for more resources for Family Court, including at least 20 more Family Court Judges statewide. The Coalition released a video today, which shows the impact of delay on children and families.

Statewide, over 700,000 cases are filed annually in the Family Courts and only 153 Family Court Judges are available to hear those cases. In New York City, there are only 47 Family Court Judges to handle almost 250,000 cases annually. As a result of there being too few Family Court Judges, cases that deserve prompt action typically take years to complete. While, over the past 30 years, new statutory mandates have been imposed and have Family Court caseloads have continued to grow (filings increased 90%) only four new Family Court judgeships have been added in counties outside New York City since 1998 (the last new Family Court judgeship was created in 2005 in Orange County) and no new judgeships have been added for New York City since 1991.

“This is a problem which has been ignored. The crisis is a near catastrophe. I think the Governor and the Legislature have to respond with more Family Court judges – the only ones who can make the promise of justice for those children and families a reality,” said Senator John Dunne, vice-chair of the Committee for Modern Courts and former Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Budget includes a supplemental request of $5 million for the upcoming fiscal year to add 20 new Family Court Judges statewide. The legislature and the Governor now have the opportunity to take steps to improve the access to justice throughout the state. The Coalition is advocating for a fully funded Judiciary.

“I think it is a priority to create new Family Court judgeships. Family Courts are on overload, and this has a negative impact of families, particularly children. It is time we provide Family Courts with some long overdue relief,” said Senator John Bonacic, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. “For many years, I have been urging, and the Assembly has been supportive of, increasing Family Court judges in New York State. Creating new Family Court judgeships is critical to address increasing case loads and to ensure timely access to justice for children and families whose safety and welfare is at stake. Family Courts are in crisis, and it is high time to bring some measure of relief to these courts and the litigants appearing in them”, said Assemblywoman, Helene E. Weinstein, Chair of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

“Now is the time to create additional Family Court judgeships. Without additional Family Court resources unconscionable delays in resolving cases in court means longer lengths of stay in foster care for our children, longer periods of uncertainty in all types of custody cases, longer time for resolution of juvenile delinquency cases, longer periods of anxiety for domestic violence victims, and protracted periods of the stress, instability and trauma implicit in the cases heard in Family Court,” said Jane Aayama-Martin, Executive Director at Pace University School of Law Women’s Justice Center, serving Westchester and Putnam Counties.

A recent review of the data by Citizens’ Committee for Children found that caseloads are so high that a typical Family Court Judge can only spend 52 minutes on each case in a year. “Children only get to be children once—New York’s children deserve better than to grow up in foster care or in limbo waiting for their hearings to be held,” said Stephanie Gendell, Associate Executive Director for Policy and Government Relations, Citizens’ Committee for Children and one of the co-chairs of the statewide coalition.

“In just over a month, over 80 organizations have joined this coalition. They represent the entire state of New York because each member understands that every child, every victim of violence, every family who has to go to Family Court needs fair and efficient justice to help keep them safe and that because judicial resources are so compromised, New York is closing its doors to justice,” said Denise Kronstadt, Deputy Executive Director/Director of Advocacy, The Committee for Modern Courts, and one of the co-chairs of the statewide coalition.

While New York has made efforts to be a leader in child welfare, New York repeatedly ranks at the bottom when the federal government conducts the Child and Family Services Review for foster children. In fact, New York ranks 50 out of 52 (fifty states plus Washington, DC and Puerto Rico) in the time it takes for foster children to reunify with their families or be adopted.

“An investment in Family Court is an investment in New York’s children. Adding more judges will enable CFR and our partners to move cases through the system and bring children home from foster care faster—saving in human costs as well as public funds,” said Susan Jacobs, Executive Director of the Center for Family Representation, representing parents in Manhattan and Queens.

“In the rural counties where I practice, despite the hard work and intentions of the Family Court Judges, the increasing caseloads have created a crisis. As the strain of heavy caseloads increases, emergency matters and lack of sufficient judicial resource are causing innocent families to suffer and creating havoc for even the best judiciary,” said Nikki Moreschi, an attorney representing clients in Warren, Washington and Saratoga Counties.

“Family court is a critical source of assistance for victims of domestic violence who are seeking safety for themselves and their children. In New York State, family court is the forum in which victims of domestic violence can request protection from their abusers through orders of protection as well as address custody, visitation, and support issues. And, considering that family court is a predominant resource that victims rely on to extricate themselves from the violence, this forum must be assessable in communities across the state. Quite simply, the safety of thousands of New Yorkers should not be jeopardized because an overburdened system, and adding more family court judges is vital and long overdue,” said Connie Neal, Executive Director of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“Family Court is overcrowded, backlogged and potentially volatile – we need additional Family Court Judges in New York. Under the current conditions, the Family Court Judges do as good a job as they possibly can…however; we need more Family Court Judges!” exclaimed Rosemary Taylor, Executive Director, YWCA, NorthEastern NY.

“The Family Court deals with the most vulnerable among us and the cases usually involve children. We must have sufficient judges in our Family Courts to deal with the increasing caseloads in a timely manner. Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Mary Jenkins, Co- President, The League of Women Voters of the City of New York.

“For too long, New York’s families have been kept apart and our children have been denied permanent homes simply because the overburdened courts have not been able to hear their cases in a timely manner. These include children like our client PJ, who finally found a loving home with a woman who wished to adopt him but tragically, aged out of foster care because the judge was unable to complete the adoption proceedings during the last three years that he was in foster care. During those three years, his case was repeatedly adjourned, for months at a time, because the judge had no time on her calendar to hear the matter. An under-funded, overburdened court system denied PJ what every child deserves– a permanent, loving, family,” explained Karen Freedman, Executive Director, Lawyers for Children, representing children throughout New York City.

“As parents we feel that having more family court judges in family court is necessary for many reasons. More judges will reduce the numbers and stress of caseloads as well as reduce the number of children in the foster care system. Also, more judges working in the family court system will reduce the time between court dates for families as well as reunite children with their families faster,” said parent advocates Wanda Rodriguez and Damaris Figueroa, Child Welfare Organizing Project.

“For nearly 17 years, Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT) has worked with thousands of unrepresented litigants who struggle each day to prepare themselves to achieve the best outcome possible for their families. For families facing long adjournments and court delays, the strain on resources in the Family Court system only exacerbate circumstances families experience in their fragile lives. The time is now for us to address this crisis by changing the legislation and the budget to increase the number of Family Court judges statewide,” said Sharon Myrie, CEO, Legal Information for Families Today.
“Family courts are at the critical front-line in our justice system here in New York where some of the most contentious, intimate and potentially devastating family matters are hammered out,” said Anne Erickson, President of the Empire Justice Center. “For example, timely access to Family Court can help establish appropriate child support orders for custodial parents on the economic edge, potentially helping avoid the need for public assistance and saving tax payer funding. Beyond critical economic issues, when Judges are overloaded, there is a risk of justice being overwhelmed. We have seen the impact on families from our offices in Rochester, Albany, Westchester and Suffolk County. We urge New York’s policymakers to act this year to add capacity to these critical “people’s courts” to ensure that all New Yorkers in need of Family Court services get the time and attention they deserve.”

“Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County supports more family court judges in New York State. A fully funded judiciary and specifically an increase in family court judges is long overdue. The current Family Court Judge caseload is unacceptable and the resulting delay for individuals and families is intolerable. VLSP supports the goals of the 2014 New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges,” said Sheila A. Gaddis, VLSP Executive Director.

“The New York State Family Court system needs resources to protect New York’s most vulnerable children and domestic violence victims, and it is time that these resources are provided. For the well-being of vulnerable families throughout New York, we need more family court judges and we need them now. I thank the NYS Coalition for More Family Court Judges for the important work they are doing and join them in their call,” said New York City Council Member Stephen Levin, who chairs the General Welfare Committee.

About the New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges:

The New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges is a coalition of over 80 organizations from all across New York State that has come together to ensure that New York State provides for more resources for Family Courts, including at least 20 more Family Court Judges statewide to provide justice for families. Family Court is desperately short of judicial resources. While the Family Court has made extraordinary efforts to address the overwhelming needs of the children and families before it, the shortage leads to unconscionable delays; the instability, trauma and uncertainty of delays cause irreparable damage to New York’s children and grave risk to victims of domestic violence. These delays cost taxpayers money. New York’s most vulnerable children and families depend on the Family Court system to address some of the most important decisions of their lives. Current limited resources create a backlog that has led to long delays for families, victims of violence and children, effectively closing the doors to justice for those who need it the most. The Coalition is advocating for the approval of the Judiciary’s budget request of $5 million in SFY 14-15 for 20 more Family Court Judges and for amending the Family Court Act to add the new Judgeships throughout the state. These additional Family Court Judges will help provide more timely access to justice for New York’s children and families.

Facebook: New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges
Twitter: @MoreNYFamJudges
Web site: http://moderncourts.org/advocacy/family-court-reform/

The New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges 2014
1199 Child Care Corporation – Vivian Fox, President
Assigned Counsel/Attorney for Children Panel, Kings County Family Court
Association of the Assigned Counsel of Queens Family Court
Bronx County Bar Association
Bronx Defenders
Bronx Family Court Bar Association
Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project
Brooklyn Defender Services
CASA-NYC
CASA-NYS
Council of Family and Child Caring Agencies
Center for Family Representation
Child & Family Services
Children’s Defense Fund – New York
The Children’s Law Center
Child Welfare Services, Westchester Institute for Human Development
The Children’s Aid Society
Children’s Rights
Citizens’ Committee for Children
Committee for Hispanic Children and Families
The Committee for Modern Courts
Courts in Crisis
Day One
The Door
Empire Justice Center
Episcopal Social Services of New York
Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
Forestdale, Inc.
Good Shepherd Services
Graham Windham
Her Justice
Hiscock Legal Aid Society
Human Services Council
Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services
Jewish Child Care Association
Lawyers For Children
League of Women Voters of the City of New York
League of Women Voters of New York State (LWVNYS)
Leake and Watts
Legal Information for Families Today
The Legal Project
Long Islanders for Youth (LIFY)
MercyFirst
MFY Legal Services
National Center for Access to Justice
The Network of Bar Leaders
New York Asian Women’s Center
New York City Anti-Violence Project
New York City Council General Welfare Chair, Stephen Levin
New York Foundling
New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)
New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV)
New York State Court Officers Association
New York State LGBTQ Domestic Violence Network
New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children
NYU Family Defense Clinic
Pace Women’s Justice Center
Probono.net
Safe Horizon
Safe Space NYC
St. Catherine’s Center for Children
The Safe Center LI, Inc.
Sanctuary for Families
Sauti Yetu Center for African Women
Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy (SCAA)
Sepa Mujer
Staten Island Women’s Bar Association
United Neighborhood Houses
Unity House of Troy, Inc.
Urban Justice Center, Domestic Violence Project
Vanderheyden
Vera House, Inc.
VIBS Family Violence & Rape Crisis Center
Violence Intervention Program, Inc.
Voices of Women Organizing Project (VOW)
Volunteer Lawyers Project of Onondaga County, Inc.
Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, Inc.
The Washbourne House
Westchester Children’s Association
Western New York Law Center
You Gotta Believe!
Youth Represent
YWCA of Northeastern New York
Website: http://moderncourts.org/advocacy/family-court-reform/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NYSCoalitionformorefamilycourtjudges
Follow Us on Twitter: @MoreNYFamJudges

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