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January 18, 2012
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION REPORT HIGHLIGHTS
NEGATIVE IMPACTS OF BUDGET CUTS ON STATE COURTS
Past cuts in the funding of New York's state courts are having a
negative impact on families, children, civil litigants, criminal
defendants, judges, attorneys and court employees, concludes a report
issued today by the New York State Bar Association.
• Family Court cases not completed during reduced court hours
may be adjourned days or weeks, disrupting children and families of
divorce during their time of crisis and resulting in extra delays and
• Criminal defendants may spend extra time in jail because
they can’t get a timely arraignment hearing. Mandatory midday
closures of the court make it harder for their attorneys to schedule
• Litigants and attorneys have expressed concern that, in
some cases, jurors are cutting short deliberations and rendering
• An attorney representing a client on a motion in state
Supreme Court is told not to return for at least 60 days because court
clerks can’t find more timely openings on an overcrowded court
• People wait in long lines to get through metal detectors
at some New York City courthouses at the start of the day and again
after lunch, as overcrowded court dockets and reductions in court
security slow the process to the point where it creates disruptions and
delays in cases.
These are just a few examples of what has been happening in courthouses
across the state as a result of state cutbacks in judicial funding. The
comprehensive State Bar report documents how budget cuts endanger the
effectiveness and efficiency of the courts and their ability to keep up
with the growing caseloads.
Court financing has not kept up with the growing demands on our
The dispensation of justice -- like the construction of a courthouse --
is hardly free,” the report states. “There are substantial
costs to operating the judicial system -- from running courtrooms to
preserving precedents. These costs are borne by the public, which wants
in return a sense of confidence in our court system. However, adequate
funding is necessary to ensure that ‘essential’ sense of
New York’s court system has experienced a 12 percent increase in
the total caseload statewide during the past decade. Yet despite that
increase, the state judicial budget was reduced by $170 million during
the 2011-12 fiscal year after several years of flat spending. The
proposed 2012-13 budget remains at essentially the same reduced
“The need to provide justice to all, particularly to the
disadvantaged -- though greater than ever in this economic downturn --
is not being met,” the report states. “In all of these ways,
recent reductions in state court funding have been very
“Court spending reductions affect real people. They affect
children, who are already burdened with family strife and violence. They
affect poor people and minorities. They affect businesses seeking to
expeditiously resolve disputes. They affect citizens seeking nothing
more from the court system than a fair and timely resolution to their
legal problems,” said State Bar President Vince E. Doyle III of
Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo).
The “Report of the Executive Committee on the Impact of the Recent
Budget Cuts in New York State Court Funding” draws from interviews
and surveys of administrative and trial judges, local bar associations,
practicing attorneys and State Bar members from all 13 judicial
districts. Participants were asked detailed questions about the impact
of funding cuts on the courts in their respective jurisdictions.
“Recent reductions in state court funding have been quite
costly,” the report observes. “Although state fiscal
restraints are very real in this economy, additional and imminent
investment in the state court system is necessary. It is necessary to
restore a sense of confidence in the judicial system, which ultimately
The report identifies a number of measures, some of which already have
been implemented in some jurisdictions, to help improve the operation of
the courts. Among the innovations born from austerity are cross-training
of court employees, development of online research tools and forms, and
increased use of e-filing and teleconferencing.
These actions are helpful, the report concludes, but they will not by
themselves solve the system’s overriding problems. To improve
efficiency, reduce delays and case backlogs, and ensure the overall fair
administration of justice, the courts need more money, more personnel
and more resources.
The New York State Bar Association, founded in 1876, is the largest
voluntary bar association in the country, with more than 77,000
KEY FINDINGS OF STATE BAR ASSOCIATION’S COURT FUNDING REPORT
The New York State Bar Association’s “Report of the
Executive Committee on the Impact of Recent Budget Cuts in New York
State Court Funding,” issued January 18, 2012, contains the
following key points:
Limited courthouse access due to reduced hours delays the resolution
of cases and increases negative effects on litigants.
• New budget-imposed courthouse hours -- often strictly
limited to 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with a mandatory hour for lunch in which
no business may take place -- have made it very difficult to process all
the cases that come before the courts.
• “Limiting courthouse access as a cost-saving measure
has had some unintended consequences. … Less judicial business and
other courthouse business can be conducted each day -- as much as one
month less per year. This has led to delays in the administration of
justice, increased costs to litigants and the crowding of court
states the report.
• Many emergency cases -- including child custody and
domestic violence cases --cannot be heard the same day because of the
backlog of cases and a reduction in courthouse hours. That has meant
that parents and other litigants often have had their cases adjourned
prematurely, forcing them to obtain additional child care, take time off
from work, and incur the time and expense of multiple trips to the
• “Family issues do not lend themselves to waiting, and
the frustration and anger that develop can be insurmountable by the time
the first appearance arrives,” the report states.
• Civil and criminal litigants often have found themselves
“in limbo” for days, weeks or months due to reduced
courthouse hours and days of operation. They may incur additional
expenses of legal fees, and need to have expert witnesses testify over
• “The impact on personal injury litigants can be
substantial as some can be reduced to poverty awaiting adjudications
relating to lost wages and damages,” the report states.
• “Business people in particular believe that judges
are insensitive to the prompt timing and efficiency which is part of the
daily business world.”
• In Ulster County, before the budget cuts, it had
taken five months to obtain a court date in a civil trial. Now, even
with justices from a nearby county pitching in, it takes a full year or
more to get on the calendar.
Jury selection and deliberation has been compromised.
• The reduced courthouse hours have made it more difficult to
seat prospective jurors and have increased pressure on jurors to
complete their deliberations in a shorter period of time so as not to
have to take extra time away from work and family obligations.
• “Justice is not being served,” wrote one
• The elimination of judicial hearing officers has placed a
greater burden on judges to expend valuable court time tending to
matters previously handled by JHOs, including jury selection. In at
least one judicial district, lawyers say they are concerned that judges
are not fully considering challenges for cause because there may not be
enough jurors available if even one is dismissed.
• “The lack of funding has created smaller jury pools,
the elimination of free lunches for jurors, and a general disregard for
resulting effects on prospective and chosen jurors,” the report
states. “Jury duty simply has become more onerous, and this can
only have a negative impact on the entire process.”
Delays are leading to longer incarcerations in criminal cases.
• Because of reduced hours, cases are taking longer to get to
trial and trials are taking longer to complete, resulting in longer jail
times for defendants awaiting trial. Judges have less time to
devote to settlement conferences and bail applications that could result
in the more expedient disposition of cases. In some areas, defendants
are spending more time in jail between court dates and between their
arrest and arraignment. This has resulted in an increase in the stress
level and costs for defendants and their families.
Reduction in court staffs due to layoffs, early retirements and
attrition is affecting the quality and efficiency of court
• In many areas, more cases are being handled by smaller
staffs with less experience than their predecessors. This has resulted
in delays in filing and processing of petitions, motions and other court
documents. This, in turn, has contributed to additional delays and
adjournments in court proceedings, as well as raised concerns about
The reduction in staff has resulted in less assistance being made
available to individuals who represent themselves in domestic and civil
• Such pro se litigants are receiving less help filing
documents and have less access to law library resources, resulting in
additional court delays to complete paperwork that’s been prepared
incorrectly or incompletely.
• “Some attorneys believe that the poor and
disenfranchised -- typically minorities -- have been impacted the most.
People who do not have funds to retain private attorneys are having
difficulties finding legal assistance.”
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, ONE ELK STREET, ALBANY, NY 12207 PH: (518) 463-3200 SECURE FX: (518) 463-5993