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June 24, 2009

STATE BAR APPROVES NEW REPORT ON THE  CONDITION OF NEW YORK'S COURTHOUSES

Report Proposes Several Key Recommendations to Upgrade and Modernize Courthouse Facilities Across the State

Noting that courthouses have a direct impact on peoples' lives and on the delivery of justice, the New York State Bar Association Task Force on the State of Our Courthouses issued a report aimed at improving the conditions and modernizing these facilities throughout New York.  The Association's House of Delegates approved the report and recommendations at its June 20 meeting in Cooperstown.

"Each and every day, in cities, towns and villages across the state, courthouses play a central role in ensuring equal justice for all citizens," said State Bar President Michael E. Getnick of Utica (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City).  "Therefore, it is essential that our courthouses offer the most up-to-date facilities and every necessary accommodation in order to instill the public's trust and confidence in our legal system.  I am extremely grateful to the members of our task force for their hard work."

Established by Immediate Past President Bernice K. Leber (Arent Fox LLP) and co-chaired by Gregory K. Arenson, Esq. (Kaplan Fox & Kilsheimer LLP, New York City), Hon. Melanie L. Cyganowski (Retired Chief Bankruptcy Judge for the Eastern District of New York; Otterbourg, Steindler, Houston & Rosen, P.C., New York City), and Sharon M. Porcellio, Esq. (Ward Norris Heller & Reidy LLP, Rochester), the task force surveyed attorneys, various judges and their staffs, and members of the public, while also visiting a representative sample of courthouses throughout the state to determine whether adequate facilities and public accommodations exist for the proper conduct of court business. 

The task force found that the public has a general overall level of satisfaction with courthouse facilities, which are primarily owned and maintained by local governments throughout New York. Many localities made improvements to courthouses following the enactment of the Court Facilities Act of 1987. Despite the progress made over the past decade, the report noted that there is substantial room for improvement through upgrading these facilities and making better use of advanced technologies to bring courthouses into the 21st century

The recommendations proposed by members of the task force included the following:

• Commissioning the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to study and implement the means to monitor, simplify and expedite maintenance and repair of courthouse facilities throughout the state;

• Reconfiguring existing space, wherever feasible, to create private conference space and planning to include private conference space in all future courthouse renovations and new construction;

• Including food service (cafeterias, vending machines, etc.) in new or renovated courthouses and upgrading such services in existing courthouses;

• Upgrading all facilities to allow complete accessibility for persons with disabilities;

• Providing electronic filing (E-filing) in all courts with electronic access to court filings;

• Installing wireless (WiFi) computer access to the Internet throughout all courthouses; and

• Soliciting the input of local bar associations and court personnel to improve existing and new courthouse facilities.

The task force also recommended that the State Bar create a new special committee to engage in dialogue with the courts, local bar associations, the OCA, and municipalities, and to collaborate with the Fund for Modern Courts, to follow up on the recommendations outlined in the report.  Additionally, the task force called upon this special committee to report back to the State Bar Association in three years on progress made in implementing the report's recommendations. 

To view the full report of the Task Force on the State of Our Courthouses, please visit www.nysba.org/2009CourthouseReport.

The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, State Bar programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.

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