White Plains lawyer to testify at hearing on Family Court challenges

Mary Grace Ferone, a managing attorney at the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley in White Plains, will be among the speakers this Thursday at a New York State Bar Association hearing about how New York’s Family Court system impacts children and families.

The hearings, held around the state, were convened to address the rising workloads in the family courts during the past decade, particularly child custody, visitation and child support cases.

“The growing burden placed on our Family Court system is having a direct impact on our most vulnerable population — our children,” said State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III. “With these hearings, we are collecting information from a variety of experts that we hope will lead to improved conditions for children and the courts.”

The latest hearing will take place at the Nassau County Bar Association in Mineola. The task force previously held hearings in Albany and New York City. The final hearing is scheduled for March 29 in Buffalo.

Among those expected to testify on Thursday are family court judges and others affiliated with the courts, local bar associations, legal service groups and organizations that serve children, families and battered women.

The 35-member Task Force on Family Court, created in 2010, will issue a preliminary report in June and a final report in November. That report will be presented to the state chief administrative judge and others for consideration.

According to the state Office of Court Administration, 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. 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 in New York City since 1991.

Courtroom party for adopted kids at Westchester courthouse

Of all the sounds you expect to hear inside of a courtroom, thumpa-thumpa dance music isn’t among them.

But that was the beat that greeted dozens of families who celebrated their children today at the 9th Annual Westchester County Adoption Day.

Supervising Family Court Judge Kathie E. Davidson (right) finalized 42 adoptions for Westchster families and held the party in her courtroom. Wearing a balloon flower bracelet, she said the event should be a reminder of the benefits of adoption and the need for more families to open their homes to neglected kids.

“Children of Westchester desperately need homes,” she said. “Children desperately want a home, they desperately¬†want to be loved.”

The Gentile family of Peekskill (right) celebrated adopting their 10-month-old daughter, Samantha Isabel, who has lived with them since she was two days old. The family found her through Bethany Christian Services. The little girl stared wide-eyed at all the activity in the courtroom and batted around the balloons while her dad held her tight in his arms.

“She came right out of the hospital and into our home,” said Joseph Gentile, who was with his wife Pam Gentile and their 14-year-old son Anthony. “Today she’s ours.”

State Bar creates task force to tackle Family Court crisis

An overwhelming rise of family court cases has prompted the New York State Bar Association to create a Family Court task force to find ways that the justice system can best handle the heavy caseload.

According to the bar association, family court filings in New York State reached a record high of nearly 750,000 last year, with filings related to family violence increasing 30 percent in the last two years. On average, it said, there are 4,601 filings for every judge.

The new task force, announced today, will study what and where more family court resources are needed, how to better manage cases and staff, how technology can make family court more efficient, among other improvements. A Broome County Family Court judge and a top state Legal Aid lawyer will lead the investigation.

“To thousands of New Yorkers, family courts are the face of our legal system but, unfortunately, 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,” new bar association president Stephen P. Younger said in a statement.

“At the end of the process, we will have a road map that will set a course for us to finally address the most challenging problems and to create a family court system that can protect our children when they most need it,” he added.

Family courts deal with child custody and visitation issues, foster care, child abuse and neglect, among other related issues. A recent state report criticized overcrowded court facilities in Yonkers and New Rochelle. To read more on the problems in Yonkers and New Rochelle Family Court, click here.