The public should expect and demand accountability from their public institutions, and that certainly includes the judiciary. And that is why our courts have so enthusiastically embraced Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s Excellence Initiative.
DiFiore’s first action on taking office was an ongoing commitment to provide New Yorkers with the best possible service from their courts. The chief judge ordered a top-to-bottom examination of operations aimed at improving efficiency, eliminating delays and ensuring that our judicial system is operating on all cylinders at all times.
Critically, this was not a one-shot deal, but an ongoing evaluation and re-evaluation, and those of us who have been elected as judges are regularly confronted with reports that measure our performance. It all starts with accountability.
In the 7th Judicial District, which is comprised of eight Finger Lakes counties, I have the honor and privilege of supervising the judges and staff. We adhere to the adage that what gets measured gets accomplished. That is why we require every chief clerk in every county to meet regularly with every judge in every court to review pending caseloads. The chief judge believes, as do I, that our only priority as public officials is to serve the public interest, and that we owe the citizens who allow us to hold these positions our best efforts to improve the level of justice services provided to them. That starts with effective and timely resolutions of all cases pending before us.
The Case Management Action Plan was implemented some years ago in the 7th Judicial District to habitually examine pending caseloads, figure out which courts are falling behind in what we call standards and goals — aspirational time periods for how long it should take for certain types of cases to proceed to various points — and, of course, why. Only with this knowledge is it possible to address, and prevent, problems.
The results of our efforts in the 7th Judicial District are nothing short of astounding and fill me with pride.
Criminal cases in the 7th Judicial District over standards and goals are down 87 percent. In 2016, there were 21 criminal cases that were a year or more over standards and goals. To date, there are none.
Civil cases over standards and goals are down 57 percent. Family court cases over standards and goals are down 32 percent. City court cases over standards and goals are down 54 percent.
Perhaps as important in our efforts to continuously strive to better serve the public, our extraordinary court employees have embraced new initiatives, which include, by way of example, the creation of an administrative judge’s task force, at which select staff from each of our counties gather on a regular basis to implement unique initiatives — aka thinking outside of the box — to better serve the public; a jury service outreach campaign to help assure that our jury pools reflect the diversity of our communities; implementation of an efficient e-filing program for supreme court civil cases for all counties by the end of 2018; and an active student ambassador-internship program, community outreach and court tour programs.
It would be disingenuous of me to take the credit for these accomplishments. The truth of the matter is that the judges and nonjudicial personnel in our eight counties — Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Yates and Wayne — deserve the credit, and make the 7th Judicial District look as good as it is.
Hon. Craig J. Doran is a New York State Supreme Court justice and the administrative judge for the 7th Judicial District. In that capacity, he is responsible for overseeing court operations in the trial courts in Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne and Yates counties.