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.

NY State Bar President: court funding cuts are bad for business

The New York State Bar Association’s report about the failing conditions of state courts in the wake of budget cuts is meant to be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who may be considering slashing the Office of Court Administration’s budget even further, Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III (right) told Completely Legal.

“Courts are doing more work with less resources,” he said, noting not only the 12 percent increase in overall caseloads from 2001 but also that foreclosure filings have nearly doubled. “There were years of budget constraints and years of stagnation before the funding cut.”

Doyle said he wants state lawmakers to realize that businesses look at the efficiency of a state’s court system when deciding if it will move to New York or expand its existing operations. If the court system appear overwrought and chaotic, he argued, businesses will leave New York.

“The legal climate in this state is just as important as the economic climate,” he said. “(State lawmakers) need to look at courts as something more than a line item on a budget sheet.”

NY court administrators want 41-62% pay raises for judges

This will certainly spark some interesting discussions.

The New York Office of Court Administration, after laying off more than 500 court employees this year to close a $170 million, is now asking the state to increase judges’ salaries from $136,700 to at least $192,218 — or as high as $220,836.

Their argument is that NY judges haven’t had a raise since Jan. 1, 1999, and now are making less than some of their staff. They also say that NY judges are among the lowest paid in the nation, which is driving many out of the judiciary and into law officers, where they can easily make more money. Those arguments may not convince the 508 court employees who lost their jobs, or the droves of New York taxpayers whose salaries don’t come close to approaching $136,700.

The Special Commission on Judicial Compensation will recommend a judicial salary later this year, and unless state lawmakers try to block it, that recommendation will be reflected in judges’ paychecks.