The sound of sighs and fingers tapping on computer keys could be heard because the Manhattan Family Court was empty — a rare circumstance reserved for off-times like this late Friday afternoon with an hour left before closing.
When asked if the cases have been moving quicker in the Court these days, Judge Douglas Hoffman says, “We had 41 cases today. On a Friday at 4 p.m.? Yes. During the week? No.”
Nine additional judgeships were added to the New York City Family Court system in 2015, increasing the total number of judges in the city from 47 to 56. This was part of a 2014 bill passed in the New York State Senate to establish 25 new Family Court judgeships in the state, allocating $5 million in funding.
Though the increase is a signal of progress, changes have been slow — it is the first addition of judgeships for NYC Family Court since 1990. Despite increased caseloads, the total number of judges for NYC hadn’t budged until last year.
“You still see strains in the ability to schedule timely testimonies,” says Jess Dannhauser, President and CEO of Graham Windham, a non-profit that provides foster care, family and youth services.
According to a report by the New York State Bar Association, from 1994 to 2014 no new judgeships were created, but there was a 23 percent increase in NYC Family Court filings during the period. Pending cases increased from 2014 to 2015 as well, according to the NYC Family Court Strategic Plan published in December 2015.
“We’ve got increased caseloads and they have to deal with those challenges. The judges are trying, but they’re up against resource issues,” says Andrew Schepard, Hofstra University Law Professor.
By the end of 2015, Mayor de Blasio filled all 17 vacancies, which includes the nine additional positions and an extra eight that opened up due to family court judges retiring. According to NYC Family Court Administrative Judge Jeanette Ruiz, the positive impact of the additional judges is already noticeable.
“The addition of nine new judges has reduced the pending caseload per judge from 525 cases in the beginning of 2015 to around 470 cases today,” Ruiz says.
The reduction in individual judges’ caseloads is significant, but the long-awaited change still leaves room for improvement.
“Adding nine judges helps, but there’s a long way to go until Family Court is resourced the way it needs to be resourced,” says Tami Steckler, Juvenile Rights Practice Attorney for the Legal Aid Society.
It’s vital for Family Court cases to move at a reasonable pace because as Stephanie Gendell puts it, “With kids, time is different.”
Gendell, Associate Director for Policy and Government Relations at the Citizen’s Committee for Children, co-chaired the New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges, the advocacy effort that succeeded in getting the nine additional judges allocated to NYC Family Court.
“We were concerned about the delay,” she says. “The challenges family courts face in general is the cases that come before it are some of the most important cases that come to court.”
Thus, since complex cases come with the nature of family court, it takes time for judges to get decisions right.
“Courts have tried to be creative in scheduling cases and also to expedite cases, but the speed of cases should not be the sole measure,” Steckler says.
Educational plans for students in juvenile justice courts within NYC Family Court are just one example of an area where it’s important for courts to take the time to get it right. Dawn Yuster, School Justice Project Director for Advocates for Children of New York, has worked with students with behavioral or educational special needs who were on probation. She says that some couldn’t access appropriate schooling because the conditions of their probation inadvertently limited the special education options.
“It’s really important that when family court judges are looking at dispositions possible for students that they really take into account their educational needs. From our experience, sometimes family court dispositions don’t always align with the needs of students,” Yuster says.
Other efforts to get cases moving
The efficiency of filings is another area that the Family Court is working to improve. Ruiz says that the Family Court has revaluated how they “assist unrepresented litigants with filing their petitions.”
For example, the number of Do It Yourself (DIY) filings in which people can fill out forms online has increased by 76 percent over the past year. This, Ruiz explains, decreases the time people have to wait to be interviewed to file petitions.
Aside from speed, another area of progress lies in the quality of how cases are handled. One program informed by developmental research called Strong Starts works on improving outcomes for infants in the Bronx County Family Court. Psychologist Susan Chinitz helped plan and then launch the initiative in July 2015.
She says, “One of the major goals is to bring expertise on developmental psychology to the family courts . . . Given their numbers in the child welfare system and how vulnerable they are at their age, this is important. It’s a partnership between judges and experts.”
The hallmark of the Strong Starts program is the addition of an infant coordinator, trained in child development, to the case team. One infant coordinator just started in Queens County Family Court and the second infant coordinator for the Bronx Family Court is in training.
According to Chinitz, cases have gone quicker since Strong Starts has been up and running in the Bronx. There have been five cases of babies obtaining permanency within one year, meaning that their case was resolved and the baby reached a set living situation.
Since the program is new, it is currently funded by private foundation money. Chinitz, however, believes that Strong Starts will have to receive government funding in the future in order for the program to sustain itself over the long-term.
Additional judges and other reform efforts like Strong Starts are increasing the efficiency and quality of family court, but it will likely take more time and funding for outcomes to improve extensively and permanently for families in this court system.
“My understanding is that things have definitely improved, but it’s not going to happen overnight,” Gendell says.
Late Friday afternoons aside, NYC Family Courts remain incredibly busy. But, Gendell puts it in another way; “The magnitude of how important the court is is also one of its barriers.”
Who the new judges are
Elizabeth Barnett, Kings County (Brooklyn)
Tracey Bing, Bronx County
Jacqueline Deane, Kings County (Brooklyn)
Peter DeLizzo, Richmond County (Staten Island)
Alicea Elloras, Kings County (Brooklyn)
Adetokunbo Fasanya, New York County (Manhattan)
Carol Goldstein, New York County (Manhattan)
Alma Gomez, Bronx County
Connie Gonzalez, Queens County
Karen Lupuloff, New York County (Manhattan)
Michael Milsap, Bronx County
Margaret Morgan, Kings County (Brooklyn)
Erik Pitchal, Kings County (Brooklyn)
Fiordaliza Rodriguez, Bronx County
Monica Shulman, New York County (Manhattan)
Gilbert Taylor, Bronx County
Javier Vargas, Kings County (Brooklyn)
9 thoughts on “New Judges Help to Speed New York’s Family Courts, But Holdups Remain”
This is nonsense. My case has been in front of Milsap for 2 years. In that time the only thing he has done is adjourn. Now, because the foster parents and law guardian are working together, I haven’t seen my son in over a year and a half. My daughters she didn’t want, but she wants my son so she can have her 2.5 kids. Milsap takes what ever they present on face value. They never have ANY proof. I have a natural God given rights to see my son.
Benjamin Eagle-Staton i been in the system for 7 years ..i finished in 2-013. the courts are very biased to m,en and fathers.the issues are the courts keep you there .it’s their job to break up the family ..acs,the law guardian cps,the judges and all there agencys are full of it.the juridical committee itself is a joke.nyc failed to get a eqaul shared parenting law in effect..the onlyu way any person sees any justie is until those are held accountable and the laws are enforced …they sent my abused kid back home and they let him stay ther even with all the evidence i had .look up this documentry called divorce ocurt ..the system is dirty ..the politans know it but have no [guts] to reform it
Email me. Eaglestaton@gmail.com. we need to get together as parents who have been hurt by the system.
The Bronx County Courts are the WORST in the entire country. They treat you like s–t and there’s a lot of BS and waste of taxpayers money. The system isn’t meant to help you it’s meant to break you. I have been so traumatized by my experiences with the justice system and “family law” all it does is break-up families to then say The Bronx is the poorest congressional district in the U.S. Sometimes I just want to jump across that table and chock that judge.
Kings Family, 2009 #157992
Going into 8years, no relationship with my son. Parental alienation has gone unaddressed, mother is in contempt of all family court orders. Unable to get court to function. NYC is poverty law, unfunded poverty law. Children lose parents by the tens of thousands in poverty system. Pray, pray to god you never need law in NYC, its lawless poverty.
that is not true these judges will speed things up because i am dealing with one of there new judge her name is carol goldstein she is strict judge and said on record about she does not know what she is doing with this case . which makes me concerned about . why she even hired as a judge . a judge suppose to know whats up and what to do but i feel i am wasting my time . i don’t know what to do . i try to filed a misconduct on the judge but they said there’s nothing . which i don’t believe that because this judge threaten me that i would lose custody if i agree that my ex is the father . the lawyers over there some seem so jaded burnout that they don’t give a damn about there client . i feel i want justice and i want to end this case but i don’t know how many years do i have put up . i have dealing with court for 2 years so far i don’t how much more is there going to be . i need help . can any body help me out i am tired.
I do believe they are speeding things up. They “look” at the papers filed and take the easy road.
My son went to Oklahoma to visit his son (who is 4 ). My son found the apt in a disgusting state, cat urine on everything – no food in the fridge- and just plain filthy. While there he also saw a notice of eviction and found out his wife had just lost her 6th job in the matter of a year.
He tried to convince her to come back to NY with him and that he would even pay the rent on an apartment here. She refused. My son took his son home with him. Of course the wife followed a day later to get the child back. He made reports to child protective services, had an attorney for his son – his son told the attorney he did not want to go back to Oklahoma , that mommy was mean and had a dirty house. Did the judge take any of this into consideration- NO. He claimed jurisdiction, in spite of the fact that my son filed for emergency custody! That child was taken screaming and kicking from the court house- I am surprised no one stopped the mother on the street for possible kidnapping. The poor kid screamed all through St. George on the way to her car!! DeLizzo sent that child back to Oklahoma – to no home with a mother with no job!! Since then with some research we have found out Oklahoma does not have a custody law!! The mother has disappeared with the child. BTW we also had proof of mental abuse to the child, which was also ignored by both the judge and child protective services!!
In 2016 I had a court JHO intentionally drag my case out for more than six months. I first appeared in front of her with a notarized letter from my ex stating that all arrears on child support had been paid and that our child was no longer with him but rather back with me, her mom.
The judged refused to take his notarized letter and insisted on an adjournment. So for six months I came to court, and for six months he did not come to court.
Finally she dismissed the case but not without first saying, “You know you could have just brought me a notarized letter from him; I take those all the time.”
REALLY!? So why didn’t she take mine?
I asked her that and she quickly rebutted with a lame attempt to justify her misuse of power.
Monica D Shulman must have changed her views a lot since being put into the family court system. She has cauaed nothing but heartache and stress to my 10 year old granddaughter who is being forced to visit with her pedophile father after she was found credible by SVU officers, ACS workers. She is forcing this child to relive her pain by putting her in the same room with him against her will. Threatening my daughter with arrest if she does not comply when all my daughter is doing is trying to protect her child. Thus judge should be taken off the bench. My granddaughter is nit her first victim nor will she be her last. Thus judge is not protecting the child she giving into the pedophile father who was proven to have manipulated the court system. Someone needs to stop her please. For these innocent children who are not being heard.