DiFiore: Making Significant Strides To Improve Court Access, Efficiency and Productivity

By Brandon Vogel

DiFiore: Making Significant Strides To Improve Court Access, Efficiency and Productivity

6.6.2022

By Brandon Vogel

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In her biweekly address, Chief Judge Janet DiFiore said that the return to full court operations is progressing smoothly and “we are making significant strides to improve court access, efficiency and productivity in many of our courts.”

For example, she cited the New York City “Felony Gun Case Initiative,” which prioritizes the fair and prompt resolution of illegal gun possession cases. It launched in August 2021 to address the backlog of gun cases that had built up during the worst phases of the pandemic.

Across the city, the courts have designated special teams of judges to preside over pretrial hearings, pleas and trials in this category of cases, as well as increased the number of sitting grand juries and fast- tracked the oldest pending cases.

“The results of the Gun Case Initiative speak for themselves,” said DiFiore.

Since January, judges and court staff have tripled the average number of weekly dispositions – from 30 to 100. Even as the number of gun arrests increased, our dispositions have gone up and the case backlog has gone down. Since August 15, 2021, the courts have disposed of over 2,100 felony gun cases and slashed the backlog of pending cases by a third.

“During this month of June, which is “National Gun Violence Awareness Month,” and in the wake of the unsustainable gun violence that has destroyed so many lives and families in our communities, it is important for every New Yorker to know that the courts are functioning as intended, and that our focus is on prioritizing the fair, prompt and efficient adjudication of these very serious violent felony cases,” said DiFiore.

New judges
Governor Hochul filled 16 judicial vacancies in the appellate and trial courts last month, starting with “her appointment of four superbly qualified Justices to the Appellate Division, Second Department, one of the busiest appellate courts in the nation.”

“Justices Barry Warhit, Helen Voutsinas, Lillian Wan and Janice Taylor bring experience, skill and diversity to the Second Department, and it is my pleasure to congratulate and welcome them to the Second Department bench, led by our Presiding Justice, Hector LaSalle,” said DiFiore.

Hochul also appointed 12 judges to the Court of Claims: Anthony Brindisi, Betty Calvo-Torres, Zainab Chaudhry, Maureen Heitner, Sarika Kapoor, Tim Lewis, Stephen Miller, Anar Patel, Joanne Quinones, Stephanie Saunders, Michael Siragusa and Javier Vargas.

Family separation
During the month of June, Judge Mendelson and the Office for Justice Initiatives, working with administrative judges and family court supervising judges, are sponsoring a series of programs to educate and sensitize judges and court staff about the traumatic effects of family separation on children, the disproportionate impact of family separation on parents and children of color and the advantages of family preservation and reunification.

These programs center around an impactful and moving video presentation of Judge Mendelson’s conversations with children, parents and child welfare professionals who have lived through the trauma of family separation.

Pride Month

The courts are kicking off Pride Month celebrations with a “Diversity Dialogues Podcast,” featuring a candid, wide-ranging interview with the two co-chairs of the Richard C. Failla LGBTQ Commission: Court of Appeals Judge Anthony Cannataro and Joanne Winslow, associate justice of the Appellate Division, Fourth Department.

The Failla Commission was created in 2016 as the first court-based commission in the nation focused on issues facing members of the LGBTQ community in the courts and the justice system.

“When we created the commission, we took that important step because we believe that the court system, from top to bottom, must reflect the rich diversity of our state, and that every person, of every background, must always feel welcome and safe in our courthouses,” said DiFiore.

As Judge Cannataro says in the podcast: “The success of the courts has to do with the trust that is placed in [the courts] by the [members of the] community, and it is easier to have that trust when each community can look at the courts and see themselves.”

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