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Delays lessened significantly in Brooklyn courts

Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister

November 10, 2014 By Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Kings County Supreme Court Administrative Justice, Civil Term Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Hon. Lawrence Knipel, Eagle file photo
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Editor’s Note: While columnist Charles Otey is enjoying a tour of Eastern Europe, Justice Lawrence Knipel, Kings County administrative justice for civil matters, has graciously agreed to use “Pro Bono Barrister” this week to report briefly on matters of  great interest to the judiciary and members of the bar.

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With significantly more than 51,000 cases pending and an additional 23,000 new matters filed annually, Kings County Supreme Court is clearly the busiest Supreme Court in New York state. During the nearly two years that I have had the honor to serve as administrative judge of Civil Term in Kings County, our court has witnessed a historically unprecedented degree of reorganization and reform, precipitated by a compelling need to achieve ever greater efficiencies from severely limited resources.  I am pleased to report that, overall, the reforms briefly detailed in this article have substantially lessened delay and inefficiency at the courthouse.

1. Dedication of New Wing of the Courthouse: After years of construction, ably planned and supervised by former Administrative Judge Sylvia Hinds-Radix, the new wing finally opened in May 2013 at the Law Day Ceremony, at which a plaque was dedicated to former Administrative Judge and Court of Appeals Judge Theodore Jones.  

2. Inauguration of Discovery Complex: All pretrial discovery proceedings (exclusive of matrimonial, commercial and certain special proceedings), including motion practice, have been consolidated from various parts to a single venue located in the new wing. Referees and a judicial hearing officer are assigned there to expeditiously resolve all disputes.  The time within which preliminary conferences are scheduled has been reduced by 50 percent.

3. An additional justice has been assigned to matrimonial litigation and another to commercial litigation in an effort to alleviate a backlog of pending cases. The amount of time taken to process an uncontested matrimonial has been cut in half.

4. When all the trial parts at 360 Adams St. are busy, selected juries are now being sent to hybrid judges at 141 Livingston St. for trials.

5. Consolidation of Operations:  Supreme Court operations have been consolidated to 360 Adams St. Within 360 Adams St., departments have been moved to consolidate operations (e.g. — matrimonial courtrooms are now mostly on the ninth floor; guardianship offices are on the second floor; foreclosure offices are consolidated on the 10th floor).

6. Guardianship operations have been consolidated and assigned to a single judge at 360 Adams St., with small estates divided between two hybrid judges at 141 Livingston St.  Substantial efficiencies and uniformities in practice have been achieved by this reorganization and consolidation of guardianship proceedings.

7. Discovery proceedings heretofore assigned to the two city parts have been reassigned to our central discovery complex, thereby freeing these judges to preside over jury trials.

8. Rigorous Status Conferencing:  Cases that had been languishing with little recent activity are being called into court to expedite proceedings.  In this manner, the pending foreclosure docket alone has been reduced by more than 3,000 cases.

9. New E-File Department: The number of matters electronically filed (e-filed) in Kings Civil Term has nearly tripled over little more than a two-year period. To address delays precipitated by this explosive growth in e-filing, we have formed an e-file department of specially trained clerks to expedite processing of e-filed proceedings.

10. Volunteer and Intern Program:  To help bridge the gap between our need and ability, the court has increasingly relied upon volunteer lawyers and interns. Summer interns were of great help in our mailroom operations. Mediation of Transit Authority cases with volunteer judicial hearing officers has been tremendously successful. Professors from Columbia University have been mediating some medical malpractice cases. Legal advice for the self-represented, provided by lawyers and law students, has recently been initiated.  We look forward to soon initiating ADR mediation in personal injury litigation with volunteer lawyers and retired judges.

11. Last, but not least, Brooklyn has been the first courthouse to open a gender-neutral public access bathroom.

The sum total of these efforts, together with the diligent and unheralded efforts of the elected justices, clerks and officers at the courthouse, is projected to result in more than 35,000 case dispositions for calendar year 2014. This will be far and away the most dispositions ever recorded for any Civil Term of the Supreme Court in the history of the state of New York.

While we still face many challenges, particularly in the timely processing of papers, the public can take satisfaction from the efforts of the judges and staff in administering justice at the Civil Term of Kings County Supreme Court.


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