The New York State Senate voted this week to increase the number of permanent NYC Family Court Judges from 56 to 60 to alleviate crippling backlogs that worsened during the pandemic — but the state Assembly has not yet taken action, despite leadership pledges to add more judges earlier this year to address what assembly Judiciary Chair Charles Lavine called "a gut-wrenching problem" in the courts.
In February, Lavine told the I-Team "It's time for more judges." His remarks came after the impact of crushing caseloads was exposed in reports by the NYC Bar Association, the Fund for Modern Courts and the News 4 I-Team.
Now, the 2022 legislative session is scheduled to end in one week.
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The Family Court serves thousands of low income Black and brown litigants, largely unrepresented by lawyers. In many cases, parents face painful, year-long waits for justice in custody disputes, visitation and child support cases.
Several State Senators and Assemblymembers tell the I-Team there is resistance within the legislature to helping the Court system, ever since the State's highest court ruled against lawmakers, tossing out their district maps and forcing re-election campaigns into chaos.
Lavine admits his Assemblymembers are "frustrated" but denied they are holding up a plan to increase judges because of the Court of Appeals ruling.
"We are not petty people," he added.
Lavine, who represents a district on Long Island, said his conference has not made any decisions yet because they want to make sure their plan also addresses judicial needs outside New York City.
Sources inside the court system who are familiar with negotiations about the Court's legislative agenda say they believe the unfavorable redistricting ruling is impacting the court's legislative agenda.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Brad Hoylman sponsored the Senate bill that would add four judges in the NYC Family Court system. He said despite lawmakers' "consternation" over redistricting, he hoped that remain politics would remain separate from decisions impacting vulnerable families.
Hoylman urged the Assembly to act ASAP.