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Monday, January 23, 2012

Bad Justice Getting Slower

Getting a divorce? Better not be in a hurry
The Staten Island Advance by Frank Donnelly - www.SiLive.com  -  January 22, 2012

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Divorce cases are among the most gut-wrenching and contentious on Staten Island court dockets, and to the dismay of litigants and their lawyers, they're taking longer to resolve. Budget cuts and layoffs in the court system are prime culprits for the delays, although the sagging economy also plays a role, say lawyers. Veteran matrimonial attorney William J. Leininger said the wait to obtain a signed judgment finalizing a divorce is now nine months or more after both sides agree to terms. The finalization process used to take three or four months, he said. And that's on top of the time typically required -- anywhere from a few months to two years -- to reach the divorce settlement. The delays have pushed back clients' re-marriages and even cost some their wedding-hall deposits, said Leininger. The settlement stipulation, which establishes alimony, child support, custody and other issues, is unenforceable without the signed judgment, he said. And parties can't legally re-marry without the judgment. "It's a major problem. People want to move on with their lives," said Leininger, whose practice is based in Dongan Hills. "People have no legal rights when the judgment hasn't been signed. My clients have had their rights put into limbo for 10 months. It's very sad." According to the New York City Bar Association, the state judiciary, last year, was subjected to a $170 million budget cut. About 8 percent of its workforce, or 1,300 employees, left the courts due to early retirements and layoffs. As a result of those reductions, all courtrooms throughout the state must stop all activities at 4:30 p.m., including trials, settlement conferences and meetings with lawyers.  On Staten Island, former administrative judge Philip G. Minardo said he had to shave off about $750,000, or around 5 percent, from the Supreme Court's $15.5 million budget for the current fiscal year and still keep the court running efficiently. Anne-Louise DePalo, a Dongan Hills-based matrimonial lawyer, said cutbacks had limited the matrimonial part to one clerk to review documents in contested divorce cases. Those records, which include financials, are typically voluminous.  "It was a time-consuming process," she said. "It's not the court's fault. They have limitations in staffing. [But] if people don't settle their cases, it can take a long time" to resolve them.  Justice Judith N. McMahon, who replaced Minardo on Jan. 1 as administrative judge, acknowledged that budget cuts and personnel losses have slowed divorce-case resolutions. She's vowed to expedite the process. "There have been resources transferred to the matrimonial part," she said last week. "I can tell you the entire staff in the matrimonial part is working very hard to decrease any type of delay, but, sometimes, it's innate in the matrimonial part. It's my belief that we should be up to date as of the end of March."  Graniteville-based matrimonial lawyer Valerie J. Camacho believes the country's lingering financial crisis has played a main role in dragging out divorce cases here.  "I think it's more a function of the economy," she said. "It's just harder to resolve cases. When you have enough money for both parties to divide assets, it's easy. But in this economy, it's almost impossible to divide up the assets so that both parties can survive."  On the other hand, Paul Scano, a Castleton Corners-based matrimonial lawyer, said he hasn't noticed any significant slowdown in resolving cases.  "Delays in signing judgments of divorce have gone on for a long time," he said. "It's nothing new."  But both Scano and Leininger said New Jersey has streamlined the process to finalize divorces, and they'd like to see New York adopt it.  In the Garden State, judges sign the final judgment of divorce in court when the two sides present it, along with the signed stipulation of settlement, setting forth the divorce terms, said Leininger.  In New York, however, the plaintiff's attorney must prepare the final judgment notice after the settlement is discussed in court with the judge. He must then serve a copy of the judgment on the opposing lawyer and file the original with the matrimonial clerk's office where it can linger nine months or more before being signed, said Leininger.  Leininger said 98 percent of divorces here are settled without a trial, so the New Jersey method would speed up the vast bulk of cases. He said it would require state court administrators' approval to implement. Judge McMahon said the re-jiggering of court personnel should move cases along. "The judgments are being done in a much more expeditious manner now," she said.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Of cours, Jonathan Lippman has plenty of money to turn his White Plains offices into a King's Palace.

Anonymous said...

Hey, give the lawyers a break they have to make a living after all. Time is money as they say.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
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