Twenty-five family court judges will be added statewide by the end of 2015 to help reduce a backlog of cases and streamline the family court process. It's the first major addition of judges in New York in more than three decades.
Last year, there were more than 7,200 family court petitions filed in Oswego County, resulting in nearly 3,500 cases that needed to be handled by a judge. That equates to about 20 to 40 cases each day that are handled by either the county's elected family court judge, or another county judge as needed.
But this fall, one new family court judge will be added to the fold in both Oswego and Oneida counties.
"More hands make for lighter work," says Martha Walsh Hood, supervising judge of the family courts in New York's Fifth Judicial District, which covers six counties, including Onondaga, Oneida and Oswego Counties. "It will give the courts an opportunity to better serve the public, and hear and decide cases for persons who come before the family court often at a very difficult, emotional time."
Walsh Hood says having more judges will help get cases decided faster.
"I think for many, many years, people have been advocating for an increase in the number of family court judges because of the ever-expanding jurisdiction of the family courts," Walsh Hood said.
She also notes that electing additional judges could save some money, but she believes there are more important factors in play.
"I think when you can file a petition and, ultimately, have your case decided more quickly and get before a judge more quickly, I think that's very important," Walsh Hood explained. "It's not so much about savings to the court, but the service provided to the people of the county. And I think most people feel that when they need to go to court because their family is in crisis, that's a service that needs to be provided by the state and the county."
Family courts cover a wide variety of cases, ranging from paternity proceedings to foster care, child neglect and abuse and juvenile delinquents. The 25 new judges are being added to 16 counties plus New York City. Twenty of them will be elected to 10-year appointments in November and seated in January. The other five will be elected next year.