The state Legislature has approved the creation of a new Warren County Family Court judgeship as part of a plan that will add 25 new Family Court judges around the state.
The new Warren County judge would serve alongside Judge J. Timothy Breen, taking some of the burden of the heavily used court from him. No other local county was included among those where new judgeships were being created. Breen said he was “thrilled” by the state’s move.
The bill, approved by the Senate and Assembly, is awaiting the signature of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. It was considered the first major expansion of Family Court in more than 30 years, despite caseloads that have risen 60 percent over the past 20 years.
It would create a judgeship that would be up for election in November 2015, with the judge taking the bench on Jan. 1, 2016.
The county has been on a list for a new judge for years, but state economic problems had slowed efforts to create the new post. The position would be funded by the state.
Warren County was among a number of counties cited by the Fund for Modern Courts in 2010 as needing an additional judge and more court space because of increasing caseloads and facility limitations.
State Sen. Elizabeth Little, R-Queensbury, pointed out that a state commission recommended the creation of 39 new judge positions in 2007. The state did not act on that recommendation.
“The number of Family Court cases and their complexity has put a tremendous strain on the judicial system,” Little said. “When justice is delayed, families, especially children, are unfairly impacted and bad situations can be made worse.”
Warren County is reviewing a number of potential court expansion plans to make more space in Family Court, although no concrete plan has been approved.
“I’m glad that our persistence paid off and we were able to get this done,” state Assemblyman Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, “This will help Warren County handle the increased workload it has been facing in Family Court.”
The move was praised by the 109-member New York State Coalition for More Family Court judges, which has been lobbying for years for additional judgeships around the state. Stephanie Gendell, co-chairperson of the New York State Coalition for More Family Court Judges and associate executive director for policy and government relations at Citizens’ Committee for Children. said the new judgeships will reduce waiting times for cases to be handled.
“After many years of waiting, the needs of the children and families served by the Family Court have finally been heard,” Gendell said in a news release. “For far too long, the most important decisions in the lives of families throughout the state have been at the mercy of an overburdened Family Court system.”
Breen, who has been a Family Court judge for 29 years, said he was “very grateful” for the legislative action, and he praised Little and Stec for their assistance. He said he had worked with Little for years to try to have a judgeship added as caseloads grew.
Breen called the decision a “blessing for families” that will allow cases to be handled more thoroughly and quickly.
He said the addition of the judge will “bring it to a head” that the county needs to expand and better secure its courthouse.
“We’re going to have to do something. We don’t have any place to put a new judge,” Breen said.