recently marked my 100th day as chief administrative judge of the courts of New York, I wanted to
take this opportunity to look back on our early progress and, more importantly,
focus on where we are headed and where we need to go.
beginning my term in December, we have presented and achieved passage of the
judiciary's budget in the Legislature, expanded e-filing and begun laying the
groundwork to achieve Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's top legislative aims in
the areas of juvenile justice and wrongful convictions. Above all, I am so
pleased that the hard work and dedication of our phenomenal judges have now
been recognized by the first adjustment to their salaries in 13 years.
I promised when I assumed this role, I also used my first months in office as a
chance to take a good hard look at court operations to learn how we as a
judiciary can better serve the people of our state. The chief judge and I are
very pleased that with the recent passage of our budget as submitted, we can
begin to gradually alleviate some of the harshest consequences of this past
fiscal year's budget cuts.
top priority will be to keep the courthouses open during regular business
hours, which is so essential to serving the people who come to the courts
seeking justice at some of the most difficult times in their lives. We have
heard the concerns expressed by the bar, judges, practitioners and litigants,
and are closely monitoring case trends and existing backlogs. It will take a
significant period of time to recover from the cuts necessitated by the economic crisis, but
whether we are in good fiscal times or bad, our constitutional mandate remains
the same. We are duty-bound to hear each and every case that comes before us
with fairness, wisdom and speed.
the past few years, business and organizations throughout the world have had to
adapt to the new economic reality of our times by finding ways to continue
producing goods and providing services with fewer resources. In order to
continue to fulfill our own constitutional mission, we in the New York courts must do the same.
double-digit increases in filings, the court system today is operating with the
same level of staffing we had a decade ago. Yet we must embrace this new
reality, band together, and turn obstacles into opportunities. We must rethink
and reinvent the way we do business. Waiting around for better times to arrive
is not an option. Not only is our primary responsibility to deliver justice far
too important, but we have it within our power to bring about positive change
thanks to the many talented and committed judges and court staff who understand
and support the need to pursue local operational reforms to improve our
this in mind, and accepting the new reality that government must make ever
wiser and more efficient use of limited public resources, it is time to develop
a plan of action. My experience has taught me that a prescribed, uniform plan
for the entire court system is unrealistic and unworkable, and that only a
front-line perspective and an individualized approach, tailored to the unique
challenges and culture of each locality and court, can be truly effective.
Throughout my years in the legal system – as an intake clerk in Surrogate's
Court, as a prosecutor in the district attorney's office, as a private
practitioner, as a surrogate, as a Supreme Court justice sitting in a
matrimonial and guardianship part, as a former administrative judge, and as the
presiding justice in one of the busiest appellate courts in the nation – I have
learned that the people in each district know best what works in their
particular courts, and that the right solution for the Supreme Court in Erie
County may be the wrong solution for the Supreme Court in Kings County.
years in the courts have also shown me, time and again, that the best ideas,
programs and operational successes often originate at the local court level.
a result, I have developed far too much respect for every segment and every
player in the judicial system to believe that a "top-down" strategy
is the best way for our institution to overcome the many challenges we face.
And those challenges are formidable. A look at the case trends over the past
decade reveals that the inventory of older cases has increased significantly,
and that today's numbers are far from where we would like them to be.
statistics are certainly important because they shine a light on the health and
efficacy of our system, but we must never forget that behind every index number
is a real, aggrieved litigant seeking justice in our courts. Yes, we must count
cases, but more importantly, we must make sure that every case counts. That is
why I am working with our talented administrative judges in each judicial
district to formulate individualized strategies and find effective and
innovative ways to fulfill our core mission of adjudicating cases in the new
administrative judges are currently developing concrete plans with realistic
goals tailored to the specific courts and case types in their respective
districts. We will support their efforts and continuously monitor and track
plans will include initiatives such as setting up "triage” parts to
resolve the oldest cases or assign them out for immediate trial, improving
coordination and working relationships with key stakeholders, instituting best
practices, commencing juror outreach efforts, and clearing databases and
calendars of lingering cases that have long-since been resolved.
will work together to identify those districts and courts most in need of
assistance, and shift our resources accordingly wherever possible. It is also
time to take a fresh look at the standards we use to measure how well we are
managing our massive and diverse caseloads.
court system and the legal profession have changed dramatically since we first
adopted the Standards and Goals measures for evaluating the timeliness of case
dispositions. We have seen the growth of problem-solving courts, the emergence
of unprecedented caseload trends such as the ongoing mortgage foreclosure
crisis, a dramatic increase in the number of unrepresented litigants in our
courts, and the introduction of new legislative requirements, such as the
recently expanded reliance on DNA testing. These are just a few of the complex
dynamics affecting how cases are processed in the state courts today.
our court system evolves, so too must the tools by which we measure our
performance. Accordingly, we will be carefully scrutinizing the current system
to determine how we can set time tables that are appropriate and realistic in
this new era. In confronting the difficult issues surrounding case backlogs, I
have received invaluable assistance from Judge Lawrence Marks, who has
undertaken an in-depth study of caseload trends, logjams and the overall
efficiency of our court system.
efforts will help us fully understand the problems we face as we begin to take
action in collaboration with each administrative judge. It is reassuring to
know that Judge Marks, in his new role as the first deputy chief administrative
judge, will be overseeing this critical project.
is a proven and effective administrator who fully grasps the intricacies of
case management and resource deployment within our vast organization, and he
has the expertise and credibility to bring people together and achieve
meaningful change. Passage of the judiciary budget will also enable us to take
gradual but significant steps to reduce case inventories.
it is not fiscally possible to re-institute the entire judicial hearing officer
(JHO) program, the budget may allow us to bring back some of our dedicated
JHOs, and we will use their talents and experience in targeted ways to manage
pressing caseloads. The budget will also enable us to give the administrative
judges more discretion in the use of overtime when exigent circumstances demand
that a trial or hearing continue past normal working hours, such as the need to
complete an expert witness' testimony.
we hope to fill a limited number of critical non judicial positions throughout
the state that are absolutely essential to maintaining effective court
operations. Through these combined efforts, I have every confidence that 2012
will be a year in which we make real progress in reducing delays and speeding
the disposition of cases.
keeping with our call to do what it takes to fulfill our core mission, I will
ask my colleagues in the Appellate Division to volunteer when they are not in
session to sit in trial courts that are most in need of assistance to clear
backlogs. These volunteer Appellate Division judges will travel to trial parts
in other departments and either settle or try the oldest cases. In certain
areas of the state, I will also call upon our surrogates to volunteer to sit in
the Supreme Court to provide assistance, and will further recruit court
attorneys from our Law Departments to help clear motion backlogs in other
am truly fortunate to have worked with so many dedicated and experienced judges
and lawyers throughout my career who have repeatedly gone above and beyond the call
of duty. Inspired by their example, I am proud to join my colleagues in this
volunteer effort and plan to sit on the bench in the Supreme Court
County this summer.
pursuing these initiatives within the court system itself, I also recognize
that fulfilling our core mission of delivering justice is at its heart a
very interdependent endeavor. Our judicial system is a complex one, with many
moving and interlocking parts. It cannot function at its best without the
cooperation and support of key stakeholders – district attorneys, local
municipalities and their agencies, legal aid and public defender offices,
private firms and bar associations, and so many others.
of these constituencies undoubtably are facing their own challenges in these
difficult times, but we are truly in this together, and I call upon all members
of our justice community – from judges and law clerks to individual
practitioners and law firms – to join in our efforts to rethink and rework how
we do business for the sake of better serving the public, our ultimate
have the utmost confidence that if we combine our creativity and talents and
work cooperatively, as we have so many times in the past, we can successfully
bridge the gap between the resources we have and the services we are called
upon to provide for the people of our state.
my first months as chief administrative judge, I have been so heartened and
inspired by the hard work and dedication of the judges and the court staff who
have been working in crisis mode for so long, delivering justice despite tough
fiscal constraints and a constantly growing workload.
perseverance and determination assures me that the challenges we face can be
surmounted and turned into opportunities to strengthen our court system for the
chief administrative judge, I see my role as chief resource coordinator, and I
want to assure the judges and non-judicial employees of our court system that I
stand fully committed to supporting their efforts and initiatives in the days
New York Judiciary has always been a national model for innovation and reform
and I know that the challenges of this new reality will spark the creativity of
the brilliant and talented individuals who make up our judicial community.
the weeks and months ahead, I look forward to reporting on further details of
our plans and our progress toward re-engineering and revitalizing the state