On Sunday, May 15, 2011, the New York Times published an article, “Cuts Could Stall Sluggish Courts at Every Turn,” that documents the impact of the $170 million dollars in cuts to the courts’ administrative budget. The article records that “About 350 court employees, including clerks and court lawyers, are to be laid off on Wednesday, following about 75 layoffs in the court system’s administrative offices earlier this spring.”
The woman in charge of the New York Court system, chief administrative judge, Ann Pfau, told the Times, “Delays are going to be more built into everything we do, unfortunately. If you are waiting for a trial, the trial that is ahead of you is going to take longer to complete.”
The budget hatchet that struck New York Courts reduced the New York State budget by .1 percent. I have previously written about the impact of these cuts and the loss of personnel:
- Court Clerks: These people handle the paperwork of the courts. Without them, it will take longer to process cases, meaning fewer cases can be heard each day and cases will take longer to come to trial.
- Court Officers: These people provide for safety and order in the courts and the courthouses. They staff the doors and the magnetometers. If you reduce personnel there, you will see longer lines just to enter the courthouse. If they reduce court officers in the courtrooms, fewer hearings can be held at the same time, resulting in more backlogs.
- Law Secretaries:These are the people who help the judge prepare orders and decisions, do research for the judges and provide general legal support. Without them, judges can handle fewer cases and will take longer with the cases they do have.
- Hearing Officers: We already know that the court system has eliminated virtually all of the hearing officers. These are retired judges who would help move cases along by handling jury selection and attempting to resolve cases by negotiating plea bargains and settlements so not every case required the time and money of a trial. The Daily News points out that many of these hearing officers were esteemed judges whose talents and wisdom will now be lost. “Everything is just going to take longer,” said Justice Jeremy Weinstein, who oversees the civil courts in Queens. “There’s just no way around it.”
Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
I have already seen backlogs begin to develop in the Courts, particularly in New York City. With shorter court days and fewer court personnel, we can expect it to take longer for civil cases to come to trial. The insurance industry and large corporate defendants are just fine with these delays because it allows them to postpone justice and to avoid making payments to victims of negligence, reckless behavior and medical malpractice. To make matters worse, knowing that the courts are backed up, insurance companies will be less willing to settle cases, therefore, adding more cases to the court system and further delaying justice for victims.
Budget Cuts Favor the Powerful and Hurt the Middle Class and the Poor
As I have previously written, these budget cuts will hurt the poor the most. The poor criminal defendant is less likely to have the money to post bail and so will sit in jail longer waiting for a trial. The poor person injured due the negligence or recklessness of another will wait longer to receive compensation. If the person cannot work due to an injury caused by the negligence of another and cannot receive timely compensation, it may mean going without an income. If the person lacks health insurance and needs medical treatment due to the negligence of another, it may mean going without medical care.
The middle class individual waiting for compensation from a car accident or some tragic medical malpractice will have to wait, while the insurance companies bide their time and count their money.
Yes, the State saved .1 percent in the total budget, but that savings came at a great cost to the poor and the middle class while favoring the powerful and the corporations. That’s anything but justice.
I welcome your comments.
Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney
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