By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Jan 23 (Reuters) - More than 4.2 million
criminal and civil cases were filed in New York courts in 2011,
a notable decline from record highs reached in recent years,
according to a report released this week.
The total number of cases filed dropped about 7 percent, to
4.22 million, between 2010 and 2011, and 10 percent from a peak
of 4.67 million in 2008, according to the Office of Court
Administration's 2011 annual report.
The report, which was released on Tuesday, did not offer an
explanation for the decrease in filings. A spokesman for the
administration declined to comment on Wednesday.
The decrease came as state lawmakers in 2011 cut the court
system's budget by $170 million. More than 400 court employees
were laid off and courts shortened their hours and cut programs,
the report said.
Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti wrote in the
report that at the same time as the layoffs, the economic
downturn had "exacerbated the legal needs of numerous
individuals and families across our state."
She said the court system in 2011 had "continued to explore
more efficient and creative ways to do business," including the
expansion of a program to help unrepresented litigants prepare
court forms and the launch of a court part in Buffalo aimed at
promoting early settlements in medical malpractice cases.
Highlights of the 40-page report include:
-- The courts collected $535.7 million in fines and fees in
2011, including $37.6 million in attorney registration fees and
$81.8 million through the courts' criminal background check
-- At least 17 pieces of legislation affecting the court
system became law in 2011. They included measures that created
electronic filing pilot programs throughout the state and that
enabled judges to award attorneys' fees in class actions to any
person the court found had acted to benefit the class.
-- Court administrators pursued a number of initiatives
aimed at increasing access to legal services for the indigent,
including expanded pro bono efforts and technology upgrades in
town and village courts.
-- The courts continued to expand electronic filing of court
documents, mandating it in some courts and making it voluntary
-- Non-profit community dispute resolution centers, which
are designed to keep some cases out of court, served more than
80,000 people and helped resolve 75 percent of the 17,500 cases
referred to them in 2011. About one-third of those cases were
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