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Report: More judges, family court funds

A recent New York State Bar Association report calls for more judges and financial support for the state’s family courts, although judges and staff in the Seventh Judicial District have been able to put families first during difficult economic times.

Craig J. Doran

That’s the word from Seventh Judicial District Administrative Judge Craig Doran.

“It’s a particularly important court, in terms of caseloads and subject matter,” Judge Doran said. “It’s important that we address cases quickly and efficiently.”

And within this judicial district, that remains largely true, despite the delays, “piecemeal” trials and uneven access to justice the report hopes to address.

According to the state Office of Court Administration, family court caseloads have increased, but the number of judges and staff to handle the growing workload has not kept pace.

The report notes that while caseloads have been growing rapidly — from 683,000 in 2001 to nearly 750,000 in 2011 — no family court judges have been added in New York City in the past 20 years; only four have been added upstate in the past decade. This has led to significant delays in resolving cases.

Individual judges handle an average of 4,600 case filings a year, a caseload many times greater than judges in other New York courts.

Seymour W. James Jr.

“The shortage of judges can no longer be ignored,” State Bar President Seymour W. James Jr. of the Legal Aid Society in New York City said in a statement. “We recognize the economic challenges facing the state. We also recognize the irreparable harm to children and families when the Family Court system is crippled by insufficient staff and funding.”

The state judiciary is proposing an essentially flat $1.97 million budget for 2013-14 that officials say reflects the fiscal restraints facing New York.

Judge Doran stressed the importance of addressing cases quickly, because the family problems will only worsen with time. To that end, family courts locally have a number of hard-working judges and court attorney referees and judicial hearing officers to help move cases.

Although the 2012 year ended with fewer cases over standards and goals, Judge Doran said the Seventh District remains down more than 10 percent in staff and a boost in funding would help, particularly in areas such as domestic violence court.

The push continues to explore new ways to be more efficient, he said.

“We’re a judicial district that rises to the occasion,” Judge Doran said. “Even in times of fiscal difficulty, staff and judges redouble efforts to make sure families who depend on us have the justice they need.”