New York State legislatures voted to increase the number of Family Court judges on Thursday, June 19th, and Friday, June 20th. The bill, if signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, would add an additional 25 Family Court justices throughout New York State by the end of 2016.
The proposed plan would allow Gov. Cuomo to appoint 9 new judges to serve in Kings, Queens, Bronx, New York and Richmond counties. The additional 16 justices would be voted into position in counties throughout Upstate New York between 2015 and 2016. It is too soon to determine which legal professionals are in the running to become judges in New York City, nor which county they would serve.
Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti, are responsible for the budget initiative that proposed the new positions be created. According to an article published in the New York Law Journal, Family Court filings have increased a substantial 90% over the last 30 years; however, the number of sitting judges has only increased by about 9%. This means that the number of new and active cases have been clogging up the Family Court system because there weren’t enough judges to handle them. In reference to the passing of their legislative initiative, Judge Lippman (who serves in New York County) said, “With rising caseloads annually, these additional judges we have sought for decades will serve some of our most important litigants, the children and families in New York State.”
Legal organizations and family law advocates across the state are applauding legislators for passing the much needed bill. In a statement released from the Coalition for More Family Court Judges, co-chair Stephanie Gendell states, “For far too long, the most important decisions in the lives of families throughout the State have been at the mercy of an overburdened Family Court system.”
The bill is also great news for smaller, rural counties, who find themselves especially overrun with Family Court cases, but not enough judges to dedicate time to presiding over such sensitive issues like custody, support, visitation and orders of protection. Senator Betty Little, whose jurisdiction includes six counties that stretch up to the Northern most part of the state, is especially grateful that her hard fought battle to get new judges in her counties has paid off. Initially, no new positions for Family Court justices were going to be opened in counties north of Albany, but their dire need for more judicial representation was made very clear. According to Sen. Little, Franklin County does not have a Family Court judge. Instead, there is one judge who is forced to oversee many different cases in multiple courts.
The bill comes at a time when Family Courts across New York State are desperate for more judges in light of the massive increase in new cases. If signed by Gov. Cuomo (and there doesn’t appear to be a reason as to why it won’t be signed), the bill will help to alleviate the extra burden that families face while trying to navigate the Family Court system. While there is still a need for more reform, hiring 25 new justices is a great start to improving a sometimes flawed and overrun court system.