City Bar Supports Judiciary’s 2015-2016 Budget Request
The Budget Request seeks a 2.5% increase, amounting to $51.3 million dollars, in the “All Funds Budget.” Funds would be used to increase the number of courts that can remain open to the public until 5 p.m., allow courts to maintain current staffing levels, and fill a limited number of critical positions. Increased funds are also requested for legal services to ensure that the most vulnerable New Yorkers are not without counsel in cases involving the essentials of life.
A report, prepared by the Association’s Council on Judicial Administration, outlines that since 2009, the Judiciary has absorbed nearly $400 million in increased costs while its budget has increased only $27.5 million, or 1.5%. As a result of cutbacks of $170 million in the 2011 Judiciary Budget, the Judiciary was forced to close the Civil Court buildings and courtrooms early, lay off staff, and cease hiring to replace employees lost through attrition. During this period, the New York State Unified Court System lost 2000 employees. Staff shortages caused delays in processing court documents and imposed hardship on litigants throughout the court system.
The City Bar gives numerous examples of the difficulties caused by what it calls the “starvation diet” given to our court system, including sex offense victims forced to go through repeated emotional distress as their cases are postponed multiple times; a robbery case postponed six times, after which the victim refused to appear again; debtors in Civil Court forced to wait months because their files can’t be found; and shortages of clerks and interpreters causing backups of weeks and months in Housing Court. In State Supreme Court, an attorney recently had to wait six months for a one sentence written decision confirming an arbitration award on default.
The 2015-2016 Judiciary Budget Request includes the costs of five Family Court judgeships created effective January 1, 2016; 20 Family Court judgeships created effective January 1, 2015, and the City Court judgeships established pursuant to Chapter 548 of the Laws of 2013. Additionally, it includes an increase of $15 million in funding for civil legal services to address the needs of unrepresented litigants. As detailed in the Budget Request, it is estimated that for each dollar invested in civil legal services, New York State receives more than six dollars in economic benefits resulting from reduced social services and other public expenses as well as an increase in federal benefits.
While the previous year’s “Road to Recovery” Judiciary Budget improved somewhat the harsh impact of the budgetary shortfalls implemented in 2011, the Judiciary still has “a long way to go before it recovers from those cutbacks,” notes the report. “The Legislature should appropriate sufficient funds to ensure that the Judiciary Budget continues on its road to recovery and is able to satisfy the Judiciary’s important responsibilities to the people of the State of New York.”
The report may be read here: http://bit.ly/1ALgVs3