The court system already was, by many accounts, backlogged, slow, and overburdened. In March, the governor and legislature cut the judiciary’s budget by $170 million. All aspects of the judicial process will likely be affected by the cuts.
Now most courtrooms shut down a half hour earlier every day. Effective April 18, 2011, some small claims court night sessions are reduced from four nights to one night per week. Weekend arraignment court in Queens is open for nine and a half hours per day now instead of sixteen (the law requires suspects to be brought before a judge within twenty-four hours). Hundreds of court employees, including clerks and court lawyers, were laid off. Even the money for judges’ law books was cut.
The number of potential jurors for all kinds of cases was pared down. Deliberating jurors no longer receive free lunch. Jurors are no longer guarded by court officers during lunch hour. They are required to exit the court building to get lunch and required to wait in the line to go through security when they return to serve.
Personal injury attorneys are faced with the decision of whether to cut investigation and informal negotiation short and start suit earlier. Once in suit, an attractive option is to immediately request a preliminary conference. Several court officials have publicly questioned the cost effectiveness of the changes and whether the system will grind to a complete halt in coming months.
By Kathleen Beatty