Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Criminal Court busier than ever with fewer judges than ever

February 11, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The Brooklyn Criminal Court has fewer judges than at any other point in recent history, but you would barely be able to tell from the number of people walking through its doors.

It’s the busiest criminal court in the state and potentially the entire country as there were 19,380 arraignments there in 2022, according to Supervising Judge Keisa Espinal. However, there are just 16 judges in the courthouse compared to 23 plus the supervising judge a few years ago.

Espinal was at the Kings County Criminal Bar Association meeting on Tuesday to talk about her court, along with three other judges, Hon. Matthew D’Emic, the Administrative Judge of the Supreme Court Criminal Term, Hon. Craig Walker, and Hon. Frederick Arriaga, for the annual “State of the Criminal Courts” continuing legal education seminar.

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“Not only am I short on court officers, but I’m also short on judges,” Espinal said. “Brooklyn Criminal Court at its height had 23 judges assigned to it not including the supervising judge and now we have 16. If someone calls out sick there is a lot of combining parts and some parts start later.”

Gary Farrell (left) and Hon. Matthew Sciarrino Jr.

A few judges retired including Hon. Alex Calabrese, who served in the Red Hook Community Justice Center, and others transferred, including Hon. Inga O’Neale and Hon. Maria Aragona. Luckily, three newly elected judges are being assigned to 120 Schermerhorn including Hon. Patrick Hayes Torres, Hon. Sherveal Mimes, and Hon. Devin Robinson.

“I at least was able to open another trial part,” Espinal said. “We had one in all of 2022 and now we have two.”

The good news is that Brooklyn is doing more with less as it managed to increase the number of arraignments it processed in 2022 compared to 2021, and it was able to do them faster as well.

“In 2021, Brooklyn arranged 14,095 cases, in 2022, we arranged 19,380,” said Espinal. “Our average arrest-to-arraignment time in 2021 was 21 hours and 50 minutes. In 2022, it was 21 hours and 37 minutes. Brooklyn arraigned over 4,000 more cases last year and the average time from arrest to arraignment was over an hour higher in Manhattan than it was in Brooklyn.”

Hon. Frederick Arriaga (left) and Hon. Craig Walker.

Walker and Arriaga each got an opportunity to talk about their parts — the Youth Part and the Veteran Misdemeanor Treatment Court, respectively.

“My colleague Judge Walker was instrumental in envisioning, developing, and establishing the (Veteran Treatment Court),” Arriaga said. “I’m so grateful for him for having established it and handing it off to me when he went on to do bigger and better things. I’m not a veteran, but I’ve always appreciated the armed forces and those who served in them. It was really eye opening to me to serve in that part and to get to know some of these veterans, and get an understanding of their lives and how difficult the traumas they’ve experienced while serving our country.”

Walker explained that he got the idea to help start the Veteran Treatment Court while he worked in the Veteran Felony Part and wondered why veterans who had substance abuse issues couldn’t get into programs unless they had a bad criminal record.

From left: Tristan Saade, Hon. Barry Kamins, and Stephen McCarthy, Jr.

“People knew that I was a veteran, and they would come to me and say, ‘judge, can I get my client into a support program?’ A lot of times they did not qualify because they only had a misdemeanor,” Walker said. “I asked the question — ‘why does a veteran have to commit a more egregious crime just to get services?’”

D’Emic gave Judge Walker a lot of credit for helping to start the court. He added that the work Judge Walker is currently doing in the Youth Part, which handles cases of kids aged 16 and 17 who are arrested.

“He was a little modest, he is the envy of the state,” D’Emic said of Judge Walker. “It really is true and his Youth Part as well. He received 743 new felony youth complaint filings last year and disposed of 726 and that is remarkable.”

D’Emic reported that his own court is seeing good returns from the Older Case Initiative, which reduced its backlog by 16 percent in the last six months, according to D’Emic.

From left: Hon. Michael Farkas, Hon. Barry Kamins, Stephen McCarthy, Jr., Darran Winslow, and Jay Schwitzman.

“The gun initiative – our seven gun initiative judges continue to make steady progress in reducing cases,” D’Emic said. “Despite receiving a staggering 1,514 new gun cases since April 25th of last year, we have decreased our total pending from 1089 to 792, a decrease of 27 percent. So while we have made progress, the challenges are ongoing, and our record is far from complete. We will continue to focus on older cases and prioritize shorter adjournments.”

The Kings County Criminal Bar Association will host Hon. Barry Kamins for a CLE on March 9 on search and seizure. Kamins is the former Administrative Judge of the Kings County Supreme Court, Criminal Term and a past president of the KCCBA.

From left: Kenneth Gayle, Ashley Ball, Lynexa Owens, Jay Mensah, and Rev. Taharka Robinson.
From left: Paul Hirsch, Gary Farrell, and Mark Muccigrosso.
Hon. Matthew D’Emic (left) and Stephen McCarthy, Jr.

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