Bronx Felony Backlog Drops, Misdemeanors Next, Lippman Says

, New York Law Journal


A program implemented earlier this year to speed up felony cases in the Bronx Criminal Court has cut the borough's backlog of felonies pending for at least two years by more than half, according to data released Wednesday (See charts).

Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) and Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti (See Profile) also on Wednesday announced a new program designed to tackle the Bronx's backlog of misdemeanor cases.

The plan to cut the Bronx's felony backlog was announced in January by Lippman, who recruited what he called a "SWAT team" of volunteer judges, mostly from upstate courts, for a "blockbuster" part to tackle long-pending cases (NYLJ, Jan. 29).

The program included pushing for plea agreements or compelling attorneys to prepare for immediate trial if no plea could be reached; enforcing strict case-management practices; and continuously monitoring caseloads. While the volunteer judges are no longer handling cases, other measures have continued.

At the start of the program, Justice Douglas McKeon (See Profile), administrative judge for civil matters, was appointed administrative judge for criminal matters as well to help oversee the program.

It was also announced Wednesday that Judge Robert Torres (See Profile), who worked under McKeon as a deputy, will take over as administrative judge for criminal matters, and McKeon will return to his civil court position full time.

There are now 397 felony cases older than two years pending in the Bronx—a dramatic 58.3 percent drop from 952 in January, though still high compared to the other four boroughs.

The total caseload of felonies also has dropped 23 percent over that period, to 3,880 from 4,755; and the average age of pending felony cases has fallen 36 percent, to 273 days from 371. These reductions were accomplished in part by holding more trials. There have been 256 felony trials in the Bronx this year, up 36 percent from 188.

Lippman said that though the Bronx court is no longer relying on volunteer judges, the effort to control its felony backlog will continue.

"This was not a one-shot effort," he said. "We want to ensure that the Bronx is efficient and fair and just and effective."

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