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Brooklyn’s problem-solving courts experience a smooth reopening

May 21, 2020 Rob Abruzzese
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New York City’s problem-solving courts reopened on May 4, and Administrative Judge Matthew D’Emic told the Brooklyn Eagle that his judges have not only gone back to work, but the first two weeks of reopening went smoothly.

“We have been expanding our virtual calendars since permission was given by [Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence] Marks,” said Justice D’Emic, administrative judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term.

In Brooklyn, the problem-solving courts include the Integrated Domestic Violence Court; the Mental Health Court, where Justice D’Emic sits; the Treatment Court; and the Domestic Violence Court. The idea behind these courts is to provide defendants with a holistic approach to their rehabilitation under a single judge.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the courts had to shut down for in-person appearances, the judges who sit on these benches who spoke with the Brooklyn Eagle said that they were concerned about cases where defendants require regular supervision.

Hon. Matthew D’Emic, the administrative judge for the Kings County Supreme Court, Civil Term, sits on the bench at the Mental Health Court.

“The Mental Health Court clinical team, led by project director Ruth O’Sullivan, has been meeting weekly and the clinical team’s Justice Involved Youth Program for our youngest participants has been meeting on Fridays,” Justice D’Emic said.

Justice D’Emic, who also performs regularly with his rock band Whippoorwill, said that the meeting with the Justice Involved Youth Program went so well that some of the participants talked him into playing guitar for them at their meeting.

In the Mental Health Court, defendants who plead guilty are allowed to enter into a rehabilitation program rather than go to prison or jail. Once they graduate from their respective programs, their sentences are either reduced or tossed out entirely.

During the pandemic, Justice D’Emic said that he had about 12 participants complete their programs, or “graduate,” from the court. He said that he and other employees were still able to hold a graduation ceremony to mark the occasion.

Hon. Joseph Gubbay sits on the bench in Brooklyn’s Treatment Court.

“To delay (their graduation) would, in my opinion, do substantial harm to the interests of justice,” Justice D’Emic said. “I also took one felony and misdemeanor plea of a defendant on Rikers Island resulting in his release to a program.”

Justice Joseph Gubbay has also begun calendaring matters for the Brooklyn Treatment Court and Veterans’ Court, conducting virtual compliance hearings. These hearings, conducted via Skype for Business, are expected to continue on a weekly basis.

Justice Morgenstern has also been conducting virtual conferences and attending to matters in the Integrated Domestic Violence Part as well.

“In the coming week we hope to expand our ability to calendar matters while not expanding the personnel in the courthouse,” Justice D’Emic said. “We have been catapulted into the 21st Century.”

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