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Case Against Bronx Court for Excessive Delays Hits Snag

By Eddie Small | December 23, 2016 1:42pm
 A judge has ruled that a lawsuit claiming court delays in The Bronx are unconstitutional requires new plaintiffs to move forward.
A judge has ruled that a lawsuit claiming court delays in The Bronx are unconstitutional requires new plaintiffs to move forward.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

THE BRONX — A lawsuit arguing that Bronx court delays for defendants with minor offenses have reached unconstitutional lengths needs new plaintiffs to continue, according to a federal judge.

The Bronx Defenders had filed a lawsuit in May against Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Chief Judge of New York Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks claiming that defendants in the borough were having their right to a speedy trial violated and that the three executives had not done enough to reform the system.

However, Judge George Daniels ruled on Thursday that the case needs new plaintiffs to continue, as the cases against the plaintiffs currently named in the suit have already been resolved, and the fact that they may be likely to get arrested again is not enough to give them standing.

Daniels also dismissed Cuomo as a defendant in the suit.

However, the judge declined to throw out the case entirely. He described the state's argument that the plaintiffs did not even allege trial delays were unreasonable as "plainly wrong" and said that the Bronx Defenders can file an amended complaint within 30 days of his order with plaintiffs whose cases are still pending in Bronx Criminal Court.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the state court system, said that they were pleased with Daniels' decision.

The Bronx Defenders are considering how to proceed with the case, according to a statement from Scott Levy, director of the agency's fundamental fairness project, which aims to address problems with court proceedings.

"One thing is clear: the court has rightly recognized the critical constitutional guarantees that are at stake in this lawsuit, the pervasiveness of these violations in The Bronx, and its power to remedy those violations,” he said. “We are committed to doing whatever it takes to compel decision makers to act and ensure that the people of the Bronx can actually exercise their fundamental right to a day in court."

Bronx residents wait 827 days on average for a jury trial, compared to waits of 414 days in Manhattan, 496 days in Brooklyn and 558 days in Queens, according to the Bronx Defenders.

The Bronx court system has been notorious for delays for years, and in 2013, 10 judges from outside of New York City were assigned to the borough temporarily to help it handle a backlog of felony cases.

Richard Klein, a professor at Touro Law Center, said he understood why the judge wanted to wait for plaintiffs with pending cases before proceeding further but maintained that the Bronx Defenders still had reason to be optimistic about the ultimate outcome of their suit.

"I think this is a judge who’s fully aware that there are repeated violations of constitutional significance that ought not [to] be going on," he said, "and he’s just waiting for a case where the plaintiffs have pending cases."