Despite Lapses, OCA Shuns Tracking Judges’ Hours

The New York State judiciary’s submission of a proposed budget this year has had the unexpected result of shining a light on the widespread public perception that many judges do not work a full day.

The New York Post has cited a “court source” as saying that judges “closing up shop early” is a “pervasive problem.” Similarly, a court insider told me that the problem is “widespread.”

When the Office of Court Administration (OCA) submitted its budget request earlier this year, Governor Andrew Cuomo refused to pass it on to the Legislature unless the judiciary agreed to an audit of judges’ hours.  OCA sought a 2.5 % increase in its budget, but the Legislature only approved a 2 percent increase, which amounted to $44.4 million for the year.

Judges’ failure to work full days is causing delays in the handling of cases, Cuomo claimed in demanding the audit.

Chief Judge Rule 3.1 directs that all state funded courts “shall commence not later than 9:30 a.m. and conclude not earlier than 5 p.m.” i.e. seven and one-half hours with an hour off for lunch. Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks has authority to authorize variances from that schedule, but daily court sessions must total “not less than six hours.”

OCA’s response to the Governor’s call for an audit of the hours that judges put in each day has been anemic at best.

Marks issued a memorandum in which he acknowledged that instances “have been identified in some areas of the state” where an unspecified number of judges are not working the required number of hours. In the memo, Marks committed to “implement appropriate steps to measure the workday attendance of judges.” To insure compliance, he instructed the state’s 27 administrative judges to identify any judge failing to work a full day “every two months” to one of the two state’s Deputy Chief Administrative Judges (DCAJ) — George J. Silver, who has oversight of administrative judges within New York City, and Michael V. Coccoma, who is responsible for all administrative judges in courts elsewhere in the state. The first reports were to be filed last month, but it does not appear that they have.

The system devised by Marks may look good on paper, but when I submitted a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, I was advised that written reports for “judicial attendance” are not required.

According to the New York Post, Cuomo has backed off his earlier demand that judges’ hours be audited. The Post also reports that Jeff Dinowitz, the head of the New York State Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, demurred in taking up the issue, citing separation-of-powers concerns.

Neither of the two DCAJs — Silver nor Coccoma — responded to a request for comment.

The bottom line is that OCA will not publicly report any information about the number of judges, who fail to put in a full day’s work. Neither will Cuomo nor the Legislature. So, despite OCA’s admission that there are lapses, there will be no official information from any branch about an acknowledged problem — and one that is apparently widespread.

The spotlight shone by Governor Cuomo on judges’ failure to comply with rules requiring that they work at least six hours a day, which the Governor blames for the backlogs in the courts, has fizzled to nothing but a dim light.





1 Comment

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One response to “Despite Lapses, OCA Shuns Tracking Judges’ Hours

  1. Irwin Weiss

    From 1988 through 2017, I appeared before more than 100 judges on Long Island and in NYC (that’s a very conservative estimate).  The vast majority did not take the bench until well after 9:30 am and almost all never worked past 4:30 pm, even when on trial.  While some of the short hours were probably caused by court-officers and court-clerks who were loathe to be in court anytime past 4:30, I did not see a strong work-ethic among judges.  This is a reflection of the political nature of the judicial-selection process which is merit-based only by accident.  I would say that those judges appointed are marginally more-qualified than those elected.  I also think that judges are marginally more qualified today than 25-plus years ago.