Family courts across New York, dealing with a steady rise in caseloads, should soon get some help.
When New York lawmakers passed the 2014-15 state budget, they included $5 million to fund 20 new Family Court judges. But that's only part of what the Legislature needs to do. It also needs to pass legislation to create the positions, and then Governor Andrew Cuomo must sign the bill into law.
The Senate and the Assembly are currently negotiating the necessary legislation, says Assembly member Harry Bronson.
But they need to act fast. The new judges are supposed to take office in January 2015, which means that upstate voters will elect the judges this November. (The New York City judges will be appointed.) Petitioning for political party ballot lines has already begun. It ends on July 10.
New York State Bar Association President Dave Schraver sent a letter to legislators, urging them to move quickly.
"With each passing day, there is less time for qualified candidates to obtain a position on the ballot," said Schraver, an attorney in Nixon Peabody's Rochester office.
Until Assembly and Senate leaders pass the necessary legislation, it's uncertain which counties will get additional judges.
But Monday, the Assembly passed a bill introduced by Helene Weinstein, chair of the chamber's Judiciary Committee. The legislation would give Monroe County one new Family Court judge. Albany, Broome, Chautauqua, Erie, Nassau, Oneida, Oswego, Schenectady, Suffolk, and Westchester counties would also get one each. Nine of the new judges would go to New York City.
Weinstein's bill, however, does not have a match in the Senate.
Other legislators have introduced county-specific bills, which predate the 2014-15 budget. For example, Bronson and State Senator Joe Robach sponsor a bill that would increase the number of Monroe County Family Court judges from six to eight.
Monroe County Family Court saw a 6 percent increase in annual petition filings from 2003 to 2013. In 2003, 24,410 petitions were filed with the court, according to information from the statewide Universal Case Management System. Last year's petitions totaled 25,962.
But the last time the Monroe County Family Court received an additional judge was in 2000.
Schraver says the volume of Family Court caseloads leads to delays. The courts handle a broad range of matters, such as domestic violence, child custody, child abuse and neglect, juvenile delinquency, and adoptions.