Changes in Brooklyn Supreme Court have criminal term running better than ever
When Justice Matthew D’Emic took over as the administrative judge of the Brooklyn Supreme Court, Criminal Term, the court had eight more judges than it has today. However, D’Emic told the Brooklyn Eagle that things in his court are running more smoothly than ever thanks to changes that he and his staff implemented in the last six months.
“About six months ago, we fundamentally changed the way we operate in the Supreme Court, and today we’re running smoother than ever,” D’Emic said. “We’ve had some growing pains, but trials have increased, dispositions increased and the judges are really working hard.”
He then explained that the timing was right for a big change as he, Justice Janet DiFiore and Justice Lawrence Marks took over as the administrative judge, the chief judge and the chief administrative judge, respectively, over a two-year period.
DiFiore was perhaps the biggest impetus, as she brought with her the Excellence Initiative, a program meant to streamline all of the courts in the state.
“When the new chief judge took over a year ago in January, her focus was on case processing and to ensure that, especially on the criminal side, that every defendant got their day in court as early as possible,” D’Emic said. “It was ripe for change anyway because it was done one way for a decade or so.”
With the help of the chief judge, the administrative chief judge and with input from the Office of Court Administration, D’Emic said he began to think about how to make changes to the court. They took input from all of the judges, Brooklyn Defender Services, Legal Aid Society, the Kings County Criminal Bar Association, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office and many others.
After gathering input from as many of the various actors as possible, Daniel M. Alessandrino, chief clerk for criminal matters in the Kings County Supreme Court, and John T. Dougherty, first deputy chief clerk for criminal matters, put together a plan around the idea of processing cases faster.
That involved getting rid of the old system with three up-front judges, whose job it was to get cases ready for a trial judge. Instead, the new system would have one arraignment judge, and two trial assignment parts. Plus, and perhaps most importantly, judges now have an inventory assigned to them of cases that they were responsible for.
“Each judge has their own inventory,” D’Emic explained. “They are responsible to take pleas on the inventory and to make sure the cases in that judge’s inventory get ready for trial, to set a trial schedule and to hold attorneys accountable as they begin to age.”
The results, D’Emic said, speak for themselves — dispositions are up 28 percent in the last two years, and 11 percent in the last year. Caseloads are down by 12 percent — that’s 500 fewer cases since the changes were implemented in October. The court has also reduced its number of cases older than six months by 14 percent and cases older than a year by 11 percent.
D’Emic called it a “historic moment,” and said that the court is not satisfied. It’s planning another initiative called the Targeted Cases Program, which will be implemented later this month and will specifically target cases older than a year.
“Cases that get old put pressure not only on the court, but on the attorneys as well because the attorney’s caseload doesn’t stop,” D’Emic said. “The more the cases get older, the more things are liable to go wrong to prevent the case from being tried and backing up the cases behind it.”
To keep things running smoothly, D’Emic explained that accountability has been important as judges are expected to keep on top of attorneys and he is staying on top of judges.
That means that cases more than a year old are brought into his chambers, where his staff work with prosecutors and defense attorneys to reach pleas or get rid of roadblocks preventing cases from reaching trial. It also means that he gets regular reports on each judge’s inventory and has to put pressure on judges to ensure that they’re disposing of their cases in a timely fashion.
“So far, it’s working,” D’Emic said. “Caseloads have remained manageable. In the beginning, I got a lot of advice that this wouldn’t work, that caseloads would get out of control and judges wouldn’t be able to handle an inventory. We’re keeping a close eye on each judge’s inventory. If we see a judge is keeping a higher inventory, we can address that and get them help.”
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