City Bar Describes Troubling Court Conditions in Supporting Judiciary’s Budget Request for 2016-2017

In a report urging New York’s Legislature to accept the Judiciary’s request of a 2.4% increase to its 2016-2017 Budget, the New York City Bar Association paints a troubling picture of courts already operating in austere conditions around the five boroughs. At Housing Court, the report states, “a shortage of clerks leads to lengthy delays in filing papers, particularly in Brooklyn, where it is not uncommon for attorneys to wait in line for over an hour. Unrepresented tenants wait for hours in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens in the clerks’ offices to file answers….In Bronx Housing Court, litigants are told that they cannot adjourn their cases because the dockets are too full. Court staff cannot find files. A sign was posted in the clerk’s office stating that due to short staffing, files not found on the shelf may not have been filed away; the sign states that people can check back at a later date to see if a file was re-shelved. Pro se litigants and attorneys endure long lines at the clerk’s office. Orders to show cause are often put before judges without the files, depriving the judges of crucial information to assess the requests for relief.” In New York City Civil Court, due to judicial and staff shortages, No Fault cases are being assigned trial dates in February 2017, with litigants having to wait a year to get a pretrial conference. “The shortages of judges and staff are especially harmful to consumer debtors,” states the report. “More than a third of the cases in Civil Court are filed by debt buyers who purchase debt for pennies on the dollar and then sue without necessary supporting documents. There is widespread sewer service in consumer debt proceedings and 40% of the cases result in default judgments.” The appellate courts experience similar problems, with cases held up for a year or more awaiting oral argument in the Second Department. The report cites numerous other examples from throughout the court system of overextended staff unable to provide necessary services through lack of resources. The 2.4% increase of $48.25 million in the All Funds Budget is, according to the report, “necessary to maintain staffing levels required for the courts to function efficiently and effectively. For years, the Judiciary faced significant non-discretionary cost escalation without corresponding funding increases. In Fiscal Year 2009-2010, the General Fund State Operating portion of the Judiciary Budget was $1.786 billion. Six years later, that amount is $1.85 billion, an increase of only $64 million. This constitutes an increase of about 0.6% on an annual basis, which is far below the rate of inflation. The courts are still recovering from $170 million in cuts imposed on the Judiciary in 2011. There are now 2,000 fewer court personnel than there were in 2009.” The Judiciary Budget Request includes an increase of $15 million for civil legal services to help ensure equal access to justice for low income New Yorkers facing housing, consumer debt and other legal problems pertaining to the essentials of life. “For every dollar invested in civil legal services, the State of New York receives more than ten dollars in economic benefits as a result of reduced social services and other public expenditures, as well as an inflow of federal benefits,” states the report. The report can be read here: