How long can the charade last? The infrastructure of the N.Y.S Court System has been suffering from neglect since the workforce reduction in 2010. The court system lost 2,000 positions statewide at that time and over the last 8 years has only gained back roughly 400 positions overall. Judge Marks testified to this fact at the Joint Legislative Hearings on Public Safety last January. The Courts have only gained back 20% of the positions it lost 8 years ago and Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks want the public to believe that the Courts are not only open for business as usual, but that the courts are also running well. For them it's the perception that matters.... not the reality. They think that if they keep the charade up long enough, the public will believe the lie. The reality could not be further than the truth. Losing all those positions was the equivalent of chipping away at the foundation of a building. Eventually the foundation will no longer be able to support the weight of the structure and the building will collapse. The courts are at that point. I can only speak on behalf of the members of the Suffolk County Court Employees Association but I believe that my Brother and Sister Court Union Presidents would concur that the men and women represented by each of the court labor unions make up the very foundation of the Court System. These men and women, who have been holding the weight of this tottering structure known as the Unified Court System on their shoulders for the last 8 years cannot hold the weight any longer. Instead of filling the majority of the positions that were lost during the workforce reduction, the Office of Court Administration has only filled 20% of the positions with the expectation that their employees will go along with their charade as if everything is better than it ever was.
In order to keep up the charade, Judge DiFiore comes up with this "Excellence in the Courts Initiative". She must think that if you use the word "excellence" long enough it will become a reality. The only thing "excellent" about the Court System are the non-judicial men and women who make it work everyday. Other than that, the "Excellence in the Courts initiative" is just a facade to lead the public to believe the Chief Judge's fantasy. What is "excellent' about a Court System that can't hire enough Court Officers to make our courts more secure? What is "excellent" about opening courtrooms late, or not at all, because there aren't enough personnel to staff the parts? What is "excellent" about long lines of people waiting to get into court buildings? What is "excellent" about long lines at the public information windows? What is "excellent" about using tape machines that produce a poor record of court proceedings because there aren't enough Court Reporters being hired? What is "excellent" about not having enough Senior Court Office Assistants to initiate cases into the computer system and prepare court file folders for each case? What is "excellent" about backlogs of uncontested matrimonial cases, foreclosures, and no fault insurance cases because there are not enough Court Clerks and Court Assistants to review new filings, affidavits of service, notice of trials, judgments, etc....? What is "excellent" about not having enough Spanish Interpreters for an ever growing Spanish population that use our courts. There are well over 100 titles in the Court System, and the Suffolk County Court Employees Association represents 102 of them. Each one of the people in these titles are stretched way too thin because they are being asked to do a whole lot more with a whole lot less. What is "excellent" about that?
It's time for the courts to restore staffing levels close to what it was in 2010. Staffing the courts properly should not be considered a luxury that the courts cannot afford. It is a necessity that the courts must be able to afford. There is nothing wrong with the Chief Judge's desire for an "Excellence in the Courts Initiative". She needs to understand however that the first priority in that initiative should be the proper staffing of the courts. Anything short of that will render the "Excellence in the Courts Initiative" a failure before it even gets off the ground. If Judge DiFiore doesn't believe that, then she is lying to herself, to us, and to the public.
Judge DiFiore would also like us to believe that she cares for all the people that work in the Courts. That's just another charade. Actions speak louder than words Judge DiFiore. Someone who cares about her employees doesn't open the courts during dangerous weather conditions, like we experienced during the blizzard on January 4, 2018. The safety of the court employees, or the public for that matter, was not a concern for Judge DiFiore on that day. If Judge DiFiore cared about her employees, she would send a letter of support to Governor Cuomo showing that she is in full support of the 3/4 Disability Retirement bill that would protect Court Officers and Peace Officers who are permanently disabled as a result of performing their duty to protect the judges, and the public. For two years now we have asked Judge DiFiore to support this bill and she has never responded to our request. If Judge DiFiore cared about her employees she would reach out to them and recognize the hard work that they do. Every year at the State of the Judiciary address, she thanks the Judges for all of their hard work but never says an appreciative word about non-judicial employees who are the heartbeat of the courts. If Judge DiFiore cared about her employees, she would reach out to all of the Union Presidents and be open to a dialogue with each of the Court Union Leaders. Actions speak louder than words and the Chief Judge's actions speak loud and clear. She doesn't care about Court Employees.
Judge DiFiore has said all the right things in public about her vision for the Courts going forward. The million dollar question is whether her vision will continue to be a charade or will her actions communicate a commitment to really achieving "Excellence"? Only time will tell. If the present is any indication of what her actions will be in the future, then the Chief Judge's legacy will be a legacy of neglect.