Delays in New York City Family Court proceedings too often result from an inadequate number of judges combined with a court structure that makes it difficult to allocate judges where they are most needed.  Although these structural faults require legislative and constitutional changes, there are certain steps, according to a recent New York City Bar Association report, that the Office of Court Administration (OCA) and the Mayor’s Office should take now to improve the judicial appointment and assignment process.

As members of the work group that produced the report, we are struck by the almost impossible burden placed on court administrators to manage efficiently an archaic and confusing system of 11 separate and distinct trial courts with varying jurisdictions.  Due to the lack of sufficient Family Court judges, OCA assigns judges to the Family Court on a temporary basis from other courts.  Every time a judge moves from one court to another, cases are reassigned, causing delay and confusion among litigants.  Moreover, when judges are assigned without experience or expertise in family law as they take over cases lacking familiarity with prior proceedings, they understandably do not perform at the same level of efficiency as fulltime Family Court Judges.

It is not simply, however, the assignment process that causes delay. Indeed, too often there is a lag between a Family Court vacancy and the appointment of a new judge.   The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary (“MACJ”), which is comprised of 19 highly qualified members of the New York Bar, is responsible for nominating judicial candidates for appointment and reappointment by the Mayor.

To help alleviate delay in Family Court, the report makes certain recommendations which include:

  • Training: Judges who are new to the Family Court should be better trained in the substantive areas they are adjudicating and in case management.
  • Data Collection: OCA should collect, compile and analyze data in each county as to the length and frequency of delay caused by vacancies, which would help track caseload and staffing needs and would also help identify the causes of delay.
  • Transparency and Coordination: OCA and MACJ should improve communication and planning to avoid any unnecessary delay in the appointment process and should announce appointments and reassignments so that stakeholders and the public are given sufficient notice.
  • Expanding MACJ: Given the substantial work load, the appointment process would benefit from increasing the number of MACJ members.
  • Expeditious Appointments:  Where possible, the Mayor should select appointees before vacancies arise.

This report lays bare serious issues that need to be addressed not only through the report’s recommendations but through broader reform efforts in New York to simplify the court structure and thereby unify the various trial courts.

Indeed, the work group that produced this report heard directly from practitioners and institutional providers who described the real-world impact of extended judicial vacancies, the rapid turnover of jurists, and the failure to be notified in a timely fashion of reassignments.  As the report states, “the current system leaves the Family Court in a state of constant flux . . . that compromises the administration of justice, often at critical points for the safety and security of families and children.”

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Photo of William C. Silverman William C. Silverman

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer…

William C. Silverman is a partner responsible for leading Proskauer’s global pro bono efforts, which provide assistance to individual clients and nonprofit organizations in litigation as well as transactional matters. He focuses on identifying and securing pro bono opportunities and partnerships for Proskauer lawyers and ensuring widespread participation in these projects.

Bill has robust private and public sector experience and a strong criminal and civil background. He has worked extensively on government investigations and white collar criminal matters, as well as complex civil litigation in federal and state courts. He also served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, where he led criminal investigations, conducted trials and handled Second Circuit appeals.

Throughout his career, Bill has dedicated himself to the promotion of equal access to justice through pro bono service, particularly in the area of family court, anti-trafficking, and immigration.

Bill spearheaded a partnership among several law firms, corporations and the New York City Family Court to provide free legal advice to pro se litigants. The New York City Family Court Volunteer Attorney Program now has more than 400 volunteer attorneys from 40 major firms and corporations. Bill also helped build a coalition of organizations in a successful effort to secure additional Family Court judges in New York. He is now part of an effort spearheaded by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore to simplify the New York Court System from 11 trial courts to three.

Bill serves as counsel to the New York State Anti-Trafficking Coalition. In that capacity he has been a strong advocate for changes in the law and public policy to protect victims of human trafficking and bring perpetrators to justice. He also represents individual clients in this area, including a successful federal lawsuit brought on behalf of a trafficking victim against her traffickers. For his work, he was named by domestic violence nonprofit Sanctuary For Families as one of “New York’s New Abolitionists.”

Bill has spoken at numerous conferences and events, including New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Hearings on Civil Legal Services and the American Bar Association’s Equal Justice Conference. In 2014, he attended a meeting at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden and other policymakers on the need for access to legal services in immigration proceedings.

Bill has been recognized for his public service with the Abely Pro Bono Leadership Award from Sanctuary For Families and Columbia Law School (2019); the Special Leadership Award for All-Around Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility & the Law from City & State Reports (2015); the Commitment to Justice Award for Outstanding Partner from inMotion (2008); and the Matthew G. Leonard Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Achievement from MFY Legal Services (2007).

Outside of his work at the firm, Bill serves on various committees and non-profit boards. Bill is currently chairman of the Fund for Modern Courts, a non-partisan citizen organization devoted to improving New York State courts, and is formerly chairman of Legal Information For Families Today (LIFT), an organization devoted to unrepresented litigants in Family Court.