Date: November 5, 2009
Hon. Ann Pfau
Broad Changes in Merged
Bronx Criminal Court Announced Following Release of
NEW YORK –The Unified Court System today announced a series of changes following the release of its own comprehensive report on the five-year experience of merger of the Bronx County Criminal Court and the Criminal Term of the Bronx County Supreme Court. Since its inception, the merged court, known as the Bronx Criminal Division, has been the first court in New York to resolve misdemeanors and felonies in a single tribunal.
The merged court was launched five years ago in response to a criminal caseload crisis in the Bronx, including spiraling misdemeanor filings and escalating felony backlogs. The Bronx Criminal Division was designed to address the jurisdictional and operational barriers arising from two separate criminal courts that were limiting the court system’s ability to efficiently assign judges, nonjudicial staff and other resources where they were most needed at any given time based on fluctuating caseload trends. One primary objective was to enhance trial capacity in the Bronx by pooling together a larger complement of judges to handle both misdemeanors and felonies.
Following a top-to-bottom assessment of the merger experience after five years, the report released today concluded the merged court has yielded mixed results. The merger has enabled Bronx County to try more misdemeanor cases and adjudicate them more efficiently than other counties in New York City, despite a surge in misdemeanor filings over the past five years. At the same time, the merger has not achieved the hoped-for goals with regard to felony cases: The number of felony trials has decreased and the felony case backlog has grown.
In response to the report’s findings and following through on its recommendations, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau announced a series of new steps and new resources to tackle the Bronx Criminal Division’s case backlogs and bolster its operations, including:
Chief Administrative Judge Pfau said, “As a result of the dedication and commitment of judges and nonjudicial staff and the cooperation of the entire criminal justice community, the Bronx Criminal Division has demonstrated some success in meeting the challenging demands of the criminal caseload crisis in Bronx County. With the operational changes and new resources announced today, we are confident that the positive results of the merger experiment will continue and that the identified shortcomings – in particular the growing felony backlog – will be addressed. Although the merged court has yet to fulfill all its goals, we continue to believe it offers distinct advantages over the cumbersome two-tiered system it replaced.”
Bronx Criminal Division Administrative Judge Efrain Alvarado said, “I am pleased and excited to receive this blueprint for improving the Bronx Criminal Division. The report plainly identifies what has worked in the merged court and what has not. I look forward to working closely with our judges, court employees and partners in the criminal justice community in implementing these changes, which will go a long way toward improving the court’s capacity to serve the public.”
The report, titled “The Bronx Criminal Division: Merger After Five Years,” is located on the Unified Court System website at www.nycourts.gov/whatsnew.