Sorority grads hold meeting to address troubled family court buildings

The sorry state of the family court facilities in Yonkers and New Rochelle will be the topic of a morning meeting hosted by the graduate chapters of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in Westchester County on Saturday, Oct. 29.

The sorority will host a legislative forum from 9 to 11 a.m. at the YWCA in White Plains, 515 North Street. The forum will address social justice and human rights concerns at the family court sites, which a state report last year called “among the worst in New York state.” The report, by the Office of Court Administration, detailed overcrowding, lack of parking, security problems and accessibility violations among the problems.

It also cited potentially dangerous scenarios, such as having people in heated legal battles ride elevators together before going through metal detectors, and urged “immediate action” to address the situation. More than a year later, county legislators are still reviewing options. By law, counties must provide adequate space for courts to conduct business.

The Yonkers Family Court has been housed since 1979 in a corner office building at 53 S. Broadway shared by a Rent-A-Center store and the former Yonkers Diner. The smaller family court in New Rochelle, at 420 North Ave. since 1985, shares the building and a parking lot with other businesses. Together they cost taxpayers $1 million a year in rent.

Elected officials have been invited and the forum, which is being billed as nonpartisan and open to the public. A continental breakfast will be served starting at 8:30 a.m. For more information, contact Barbara Wiggins at 997-7491.

Bar Associations demand action in overcrowded family courts

In July, I wrote a story about overcrowding and other problems in the family courts in Yonkers and New Rochelle. A state report criticized the buildings as “among the worst in the state” for family courts and cited insufficient space, lack of parking, security problems and accessibility violations among the problems.

County and court officials at the time said they would address the situation. Four months later, nothing has changed.

Today, the Westchester County Bar Association issued a joint statement with other legal groups calling for action to fix the “severe disrepair”‘ in those facilities. Here is the full, unedited statement:

“Local Bar Associations representing the majority of practicing lawyers in Westchester have come together to call attention to the deplorable conditions that exist in the Family Court facilities in Yonkers (and New Rochelle) and call for appropriate action to correct these conditions.”

“Donald Sandford, President of the WCBA, describes the current state of the facility:  ‘There is insufficient space for the most basic needs, conference space for litigants and their attorneys, storage space for court files, work space for court personnel, etc.  These problems have now been exacerbated by the fact that persons having business before the court are denied access because the facilities are so grossly overcrowded.'”

“The Law Guardian Association, the New Rochelle Bar Association,  the Yonkers Bar Association, the Westchester Black Bar Association,  the Westchester Women’s Bar Association join with the Westchester County Bar Association in calling for action. As leaders of the legal community, the combined organizations believe that it is their duty to speak out against the disgraceful conditions in order to assist those seeking access to justice. They agree that activism on the part of local bar associations is the best way to call attentions to the problem and bring about a solution to the conditions in the satellite family courts.”

And now … a mouse in Yonkers Family Court

Back in July, we wrote about the lousy conditions in Yonkers Family Court, which state court officials called one of the worst family courts in New York because of the overcrowding, security problems and accessibility violations in the downtown building.

Well, apparently the problems reached a new level today — a mouse (not necessarily this one) ran across the waiting room floor at about 10:30 this morning.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman said.

While this may be the first time a rodent was spotted during business hours, Scheinkman said, the building at 53 S. Broadway that houses Family Court has had vermin problems for a while. He said an exterminator came about six months ago to clean house, but evidence of the long-tailed critters remains.

“We’ve had their droppings. We’ve had their odors,” he said.

Still no word from Westchester County officials if they’ll move Yonkers Family Court into a newer, better facility. Scheinkman said he has exchanged ideas with county administrations, but that nothing has been decided.

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.