Contact: Mark Mahoney Associate
Director, Media Services and Public Affairs Mmahoney@nysba.org
January 25, 2013
STATE BAR RECOMMENDS MORE JUDGES, ADDITIONAL
IMPROVED REPRESENTATION FOR FAMILY COURT
A major study released today by the New York State Bar Association
urged greater support for Family Courts, calling for more judges and
resources to handle cases of child support, neglect and abuse, foster
care and other family issues.
The findings of the comprehensive two-year study are included in a
198-page report approved by the Association’s House of Delegates
on January 25.
“The lack of judges to hear the overwhelming number of cases
involving the safety and well-being of children results in long delays,
piecemeal trials, uneven access to justice and a public perception that
the forum is ineffectual and unworthy of community confidence,”
the report states.
The study found that it can take months and even years to resolve
some cases involving children. It pointed to an inadequate number of
Family Court judges and staff to handle a burgeoning caseload that has
led to overcrowded dockets, confusion and frustration for litigants,
delays and multiple adjournments.
“With overcrowded dockets, too few judges, and far too many
delays, these courts resemble hospital emergency rooms and our family
law attorneys are forced to perform triage,” the report
Many families appear in Family Court without attorneys and must
negotiate a complex court system without adequate help. A survey of 95
litigants about their experiences in Family Court in four counties
(Queens, Wayne, Monroe and Saratoga) found that more than three-quarters
were not represented by attorneys. Mediation programs that could resolve
many matters without courtroom intervention are not being used to the
fullest extent possible.
The report’s 26 recommendations include authorizing more
judges, expanding the use of mediation, along with the expanded use of
video technology and e-filing to improve efficiency, and increased
funding for longer court hours, training, security and facility
“The shortage of judges can no longer be ignored,” said
State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New
York City). “We recognize the economic challenges facing the
state. We also recognize the irreparable harm to children and families
when the Family Court system is crippled by insufficient staff and
Among the report’s recommendations:
• Urge the state Legislature to authorize more judges and
assign judges from other courts to sit in Family Court in the meantime;
add more judicial hearing officers, court attorneys/referees and support
magistrates to improve disposition of cases.
• Expand the court day to ensure that more hearings can be
completed on the same day. That would help improve the quality of
decisions and boost morale of judges and staff.
• Expand and enhance mediation programs, which provide a
cost-effective alternative to court appearances in child custody,
welfare and support cases.
• Make rules more consistent regarding assignment of counsel
to low-income individuals. Also, provide greater assistance and
resources (including pro bono services) for litigants without legal
• Improve services for individuals with physical and mental
disabilities and for immigrants.
• Adopt consistent procedures regarding court-ordered
psychological evaluations in child custody and neglect cases.
• Urge the Legislature to authorize digital filing of
pleadings in more types of proceedings. Reduce paperwork through digital
filing of documents. Increase statewide use of e-filing to make the
system more efficient and user-friendly. Expand use of
• Expand continuing legal education for judges,
quasi-judicial personnel, attorneys and staff.
• Increase collaboration between the courts, the bar and the
The 35-member task force was chaired by Susan B. Lindenauer, retired
general counsel for The Legal Aid Society in New York City, and Broome
County Family Court Judge Rita Connerton.
It held hearings in Albany, Buffalo, Long Island and New York City,
during which more than 60 individuals testified, including judges,
Family Court personnel, government officials, and advocates for children
“We commend the many judges and court personnel who are
dedicated to improving the lives of children,” said Lindenauer.
“We hope the additional resources we propose can be used to
improve conditions for all those who come before our courts and those
who serve in the courts.”
“Ensuring the welfare of our children is our most important
priority. Family Court plays a vital role in their well-being and
protection,” said Connerton. “By dedicating ourselves to
improving the Family Court system, we are rededicating ourselves to
improving the lives of families throughout our state.”
Family Court’s Vital Role
Family Court in New York is charged with responsibility for
vulnerable children who are in the midst of domestic crises. Its mission
is to protect the well-being and safety of children in matters of child
custody, visitation, child support, domestic violence, truancy, child
abuse and neglect, parental rights and foster care.
According to the state Office of Court Administration, Family Court
caseloads have increased as more families have sought legal resolution
and as courts have taken on increased responsibilities. Yet the number
of judges and staff to handle the growing workload has not kept
The report notes that while caseloads have been growing
rapidly—from 683,000 in 2001 to nearly 750,000 in 2011—no
Family Court judges have been added in New York City in the past 20
years; only four have been added upstate in the past decade. This has
led to significant delays in resolving cases.
Individual judges currently handle an average of 4,600 case filings a
year, a caseload many times greater than judges in other New York