By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK, Jan 25 (Reuters) - The New York State Bar
Association on Friday called for significant reforms to the
Family Court system, including additional judges to tackle
crisis-level delays and overcrowded dockets.
The recommendations came as part of a comprehensive 198-page report on Family Court after two years of analysis.
The study was one of three approved by the state bar's House
of Delegates on Friday at the conclusion of its annual meeting
in New York City. The other reports called for restrictions on
the use of long-term solitary confinement and measures to
modernize the state's election process to boost voter turnout.
In Family Court, a dearth of judges has left the system
unable to cope with an increasing caseload, according to the
report. No Family Court judges have been added in New York City
for 20 years and only four have been added statewide, even as
filings have reached a record high, according to the report.
There are 149 Family Court judges statewide, the study said.
"The lack of judges to hear the overwhelming number of cases
involving the safety and well-being of children results in long
delays, piecemeal trials, uneven access to justice and a public
perception that the forum is ineffectual and unworthy of
community confidence," the report said.
In addition, the study recommended that judges be reassigned
to Family Court, where the average judge handles more than 4,600
case filings a year.
"At the start of 2012, 188,982 proceedings were pending more
than 180 days," the report said. "This delay is unacceptable in
the life of a child."
The report suggested using preliminary assistance officers
to screen cases before they reach the courtroom, particularly in
child support cases, which represent almost 45 percent of Family
Those cases are heard by the state's 125 support
magistrates, who handle between 2,500 and 3,000 cases annually,
leaving little time to adjudicate them. By using prescreening,
the study concluded, many cases could be resolved on consent or
brought closer to resolution before taking up valuable courtroom
Other recommendations included expanding mediation in child
custody and support cases, making the rules for assigning
counsel to low-income litigants more uniform and adopting
consistent rules for the use of court-ordered psychological
evaluations in custody and neglect cases.
SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, VOTER TURNOUT
The bar association also passed a resolution calling on
prisons to cut back on their use of solitary confinement and
establish new procedures for separating violent and nonviolent
"The injury done to human beings by subjecting them to
solitary confinement has been well documented across multiple
forums," the report said. "Far from furthering legitimate
penological objectives, it only serves to aggravate the very
conditions it seeks to alleviate."
The report comes three months after the New York Civil
Liberties Union released a scathing study of solitary
confinement in New York, finding that prisons had isolated one
of the state's 56,000 prisoners more than 13,500 times in 2011,
for an average of five months at a time.
The bar association urged prison and jail officials to
restrict the use of solitary confinement to extremely rare
circumstances and to limit the time spent in isolation to no
more than 15 days.
Finally, the bar group called for reforms to the state's
voter registration process in an effort to increase
participation. New York ranks among the country's lowest in
terms of voter turnout.
The recommendations include making voter registration
available online, amending the state constitution to allow
statewide Election Day registration and allowing limited early
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