A State Bar Association task force created to help improve the lives of children and families through reform of the state's complex and overburdened Family Court system will convene the first of four statewide hearings Thursday in Albany.

The hearing will be held Dec. 1 from 10:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Bar Association offices, at One Elk Street, Albany. Subsequent hearings will be held in each of the three other state judicial departments in January and March.

From foster care to child abuse and neglect, Family Courts deal with some of the most difficult issues involving New York's children at their most vulnerable.

"Ultimately, the need to re-examine Family Court comes down to doing what's best for the children who are affected by domestic violence, the break-up of families and criminal behavior," said Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo, LLP). "An overburdened, under-resourced Family Court means weeks or months of prolonged uncertainty for kids."

 "The Family Court Task Force is working toward finding ways to assist the courts and those they serve to address the problems they face more efficiently and fairly in a time of diminished resources," said Susan B. Lindenauer, former counsel to the president and attorney-in-chief of the Legal Aid Society of New York City. She co-chairs the Task Force with Broome County Family Court Judge Mary Rita Connerton.

The list of speakers Thursday includes: Amy Barasch of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence; Albany County Family Court Judge Gerard E. Maney; Paul Lupia of the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York; Susan Antos of the Empire Justice Center; Lillian M. Moy of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern NY; Dr. Elizabeth Schockmel of Capital Psychological Associates; Lisa Frisch of the Legal Project in Albany; Laurie Case, chief clerk of Cortland County Family Court; and Ulster County Attorney Beatrice Havranek. Others have been invited to present written testimony to the task force.

Among the topics to be discussed are: using technology to minimize and streamline court appearances; assistance for litigants who represent themselves; mediation; "paperless" court and speedy trial proposals; the impact of budget cuts; use of probation and social services; need for translators; and the presence of adolescents at child custody and child protective hearings.

Anyone wishing to submit written testimony for the task force to consider, may send submissions to the Family Court Task Force at One Elk Street, Albany, New York 12207.

The task force expects to use testimony from the four hearings to complement its research and provide additional insight into the problems and solutions. It will issue its preliminary report in June 2012 and a final report in November 2012. That report will be presented to the state's Chief Administrative Judge and others for consideration of its recommendations.

The 35-member Task Force on the Family Court was formed in 2010 at the direction of then-Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger to identify key areas for improving Family Court across the state.  Four subcommittees have been established that address resources for litigants, resources for the courts, operation case management and staffing, and technology.

According to Office of Court Administration statistics, New York's Family Courts handled 720,850 court filings in 2010, compared to 683,390 in 2001. In New York City, the caseload was 246,266 in 2010, up from 226,544 in 2001. The number of custody/visitation cases statewide rose from 169,111 in 2001 to 205,026 in 2010, and the number of filings related to child support statewide rose from 217,352 in 2001 to 267,820 in 2010.

Despite rising caseloads--including a record 742,365 statewide in 2009--only four new Family Court judgeships have been created statewide since 1999, and none have been created in New York City since 1991.

The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest state voluntary bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, it is celebrating its 135th anniversary this year.


Contact: Mark Mahoney
Associate Director of Media Services