On February 15th, the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts’ Pandemic Practices Working Group (PPWG) issued a report evaluating the court system’s response to the pandemic and calling for, among other recommendations, the expansion of remote proceedings, enhancement of the court’s technological capacity, and an increase in court staffing. Beginning last summer, I had the privilege along with other Proskauer attorneys of assisting the PPWG with its information-gathering efforts and with drafting the report.
The Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts established the Pandemic Practices Working Group (PPWG) to investigate, evaluate, and report on the successes of, and challenges faced by, the state court system during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. To that end, the PPWG held its first Public Hearing on Pandemic Practices on June 7th, 2022 in Albany, New York. This hearing served an agenda-setting purpose for the PPWG, highlighting the most pressing issues facing stakeholders within the state court system. Thirty-seven witnesses participated from across New York State to share their unique perspectives.
As a board member of Legal Information for Families Today (LIFT), a non-profit organization that helps unrepresented litigants in New York City Family Court, I was proud to help organize a recent panel discussion addressing race and poverty in the New York State Family Court. Moderated by LIFT Executive Director Cathy Cramer, the panelists included the Honorable Edwina Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge; former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson; and Proskauer Pro Bono Partner, Bill Silverman. Secretary Johnson is responsible for a recent report on institutional racism in the New York State Court System, where he characterized certain courts, including the Family Court, as providing a “second class system of justice for people of color in New York State.” Bill Silverman co-authored a recent report on behalf of the New York City Bar Association and the Fund for Modern Courts which addressed the impact of COVID-19 on the New York City Family Court and how the crisis laid bare longstanding inequities. Judge Mendelson is responsible for the Court’s justice initiatives.
Last week, court reform took a giant step forward in New York State when Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Charles D. Lavine introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to simplify New York’s complicated court structure.
The proposal would streamline the court system by consolidating New…
Despite the critical importance of a strong and independent judiciary, it’s too often that court reform is ignored by public officials and civic leaders. Earlier this week – at the Conference on Judicial Selection Reform hosted by the Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone – I had the opportunity to use my perspective as Chair of The Fund for Modern Courts to speak on the importance of simplifying New York’s antiquated court system.
The conference began with remarks by Congressman Jerry Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson – who recently issued a report on racism and bias in the state court system. Secretary Johnson referred to the current court structure as “inexplicable,” and described how certain courts, such as the family and criminal courts, are under-resourced and over-burdened. He furthered explained how, in New York, over time there has developed a “second class system of justice for people of color.”
Proskauer was privileged to host a panel presentation with Her Justice this month to raise awareness of economic and legal obstacles facing women who are living in poverty in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic. The panel was moderated by Proskauer associate Elizabeth Siegel, a member of the Her Justice Junior Advisory Board, and featured Her Justice attorneys Hamra Ahmad, Anna Maria Diamanti, and Prathiba Desai. With support from pro bono lawyers at Proskauer and other law firms, Her Justice provides family law and immigration representation to women of limited means, most of whom are mothers and survivors of intimate partner violence.
Among other obstacles, the panelists highlighted the many hurdles the public health crisis has caused for low-income women seeking legal relief in family court. Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, accessing family court was challenging for Her Justice’s clients because the court required them to appear in person. Clients often had to wait several hours even for a brief appearance, which was particularly difficult and financially burdensome for those who needed to arrange for child care or time off from work. At the beginning of the pandemic, in March 2020, the New York City Family Court closed except for “essential services” such as emergency proceedings for orders of protection, which are being heard virtually. While the ability to obtain orders of protection during the pandemic is critical for vulnerable women, participating in virtual hearings has created yet another set of challenges for women living in poverty who may not be able to access the technology needed for remote hearings. The lack of access to a stable internet connection and a confidential location to safely discuss sensitive legal issues has proven to be especially difficult.
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…