Chief Judge DiFiore: Every Reason to Feel Positive and Optimistic About the Future

By Brandon Vogel

Chief Judge DiFiore: Every Reason to Feel Positive and Optimistic About the Future

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Good afternoon Members,

In her weekly address, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that we have every reason to feel positive and optimistic about the future.

“There are so many people who never stop doing their level best to see that justice is done, and I see that every day within our court family and in the many ways that our judges and staff are constantly going above and beyond the call of duty to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our many litigants, including families and children who need our services,” said DiFiore.

She cited a recent criminal trial in Queens County that concluded last week, for demonstrating the importance of jury trials. The defendant in that case was arrested in July 2018, more than two years ago. He has been held in custody since then, charged with two counts of burglary in the second degree, and criminal trespass as a misdemeanor. The case was scheduled to go to trial in March, but the arrival of the pandemic and the statewide stay-at-home order halted jury selection and led to a mistrial.

The trial finally went forward as part of our citywide jury trial pilot earlier this month and was completed safely and successfully. The jury acquitted the defendant of all felony charges but convicted him of the misdemeanor charge. As a result, the defendant was freed by the judge — after having spent more than two years in jail for committing a crime that carries a maximum sentence of one year.

DiFiore emphasized that this is not a unique case; other defendants are being held in jail while they await the opportunity to have their guilt or innocence determined by a jury of their peers.

“The right to a trial by jury is one of the most fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution, and it is one that we — and I mean every single player in our criminal justice system — have a solemn responsibility to uphold, notwithstanding the challenges of the pandemic,” said DiFiore.

DiFiore noted that today is the last day of November, which is “National Adoption Month.” One hundred and thirty-seven children around the state found their “forever families” in Family Courts. Virtual Adoption Days were held in the 5th, the 8th and the 9th Judicial Districts, and in the 10th District’s Suffolk County.

She also highlighted the work of the New York State Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children, chaired by the former Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, Third Department, Karen Peters. For the last three decades, the Commission’s members, including judges, lawyers, advocates, physicians, legislators and state and local officials have been working to improve the lives and life chances of the children who come before the New York State Courts.

Earlier this month, the Commission issued its most recent report, “Pursuing Pathways to Justice for Children,” summarizing its impressive ongoing cross-agency collaborations, policy reforms and education and training to improve the delivery of justice to children and families. Outlined in the report are the steps the Commission has undertaken in the face of the public health crisis to obtain generous grant funding to support remote training for both attorneys representing children and parents and child welfare workers on using technology platforms to ensure effective communication and full and fair participation in court hearings.

She concluded: “I once again thank you for all that you are doing in the face of unprecedented challenges to our work, and I encourage you to stay focused and strong in pressing on with our important responsibilities. I also thank you for, and remind you to remain disciplined, in doing all that you can and should be doing to keep yourselves and those around you safe.”

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