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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System

NEW BRONX COURT RESOLVES 3,000 PENDING CASES IN UNDER FIVE MONTHS

There's no new building. There are no additional judges. But there is a new way of doing things in the Bronx.

Judges in the Supreme and local criminal courts in the Bronx became part of a single trial court on Nov. 8 in an experiment designed to address both the inventory of older felony cases and the thousands of backlogged misdemeanor cases. In the new Bronx County Criminal Division, which remains somewhat controversial in terms of court restructuring issues, all the judges are capable of handling either felony or misdemeanor cases. Spearheaded by Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Court Operations and Planning Judy Harris Kluger, the effort to implement a single, streamlined court of criminal jurisdiction involved an extraordinary amount of attention to operational details as well as collaboration with courtroom and back-office personnel in both courts. All that advance planning paid off, according to Judge Kluger, who said that the new Division "started beautifully from day one. We did all the ground work we needed to do, and there were no major problems."

The impetus for the move was twofold - caseload backlogs and efficiency in judicial resources. At the end of September 2004, there were 11,000 pending cases in Criminal Court and 2,800 indictments in Supreme Court, court officials said. Forty-eight percent of the indictments had been pending more than six months. New York's speedy trial guidelines require that misdemeanor cases be tried within 90 days, felony cases within six months, yet there were cases lingering for a year or longer.

By April 2005, the new Criminal Division had reduced the number of pending cases by 3,000, including felonies and misdemeanors. After just one month, many more misdemeanor cases had been tried than in all of the previous year, according to Bronx Supreme Court, Criminal Term, Administrative Judge John Collins.

The Division has helped clear cases in part because some defendants faced both felony and misdemeanor charges, which meant appearances before two judges, two proceedings and two schedules. An attorney might request a delay in the felony case pending the outcome of the misdemeanor case, and vice-versa. While both cases were "on hold," delay not only impacted the courts but also victims and witnesses, who might move away or lose interest in a case.

On the day we visited, Judge Troy Webber had a case that illustrated the effect of the change. A defendant pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and several unrelated misdemeanor charges at the same time. Previously, that would have required two proceedings in two courtrooms with different judges.

The new Division will allow the court system to respond efficiently to whatever caseload trends may develop in the future. For now, Judge Kluger said, it's a work in progress that she will be monitoring on an ongoing basis.

Spring/Summer 2005PDF Format
HTML: Judicial Institute Judicial Salary Bill State of the Judiciary Drug Law Reform Welcome Innovative Jury Practices ABA American Jury Initiative Security Camera Network Court Security Review Profile: Joseph J. Traficanti Jr. Chief Justices In Manhattan Civil Case Management Court Officer Recruitment Public Access to Courts Family Court E-Petition Program Kids Go to Work Court Construction Update Fiduciary Commission Report OCA Update Bronx Court Cuts Case Backlog Law Day 2005 Merit Performance Awards

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Web page updated: September 1, 2006 - www.NYCOURTS.gov