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New York Courts to Cut $300 Million as State Deficit Grows

Sept. 30, 2020, 7:12 PM

The New York State Court system is freezing all hiring, cutting spending, and denying most elected judges requests for recertification in an effort to cut about $300 million from its budget as the state faces a growing deficit.

The reductions were outlined in a letter sent to the state’s administrative judges on Tuesday by Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks as the system tries to meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request for all state entities to cut their budgets by 10%.

“At this point, we have been able to avoid employee layoffs, but there is no telling what the coming months may bring,” Marks said in the letter. “One thing is increasingly apparent — the next fiscal year will be as difficult, if not more difficult, than last year.”

New York, like other states around the country, is facing a rising budget deficit as a result of the coronavirus.

The state anticipates a $14.5 billion budget shortfall for the current fiscal year, which ends on March 31. The deficit is expected to be $62 billion over four years, according to the state budget office.

The state hasn’t made any permanent cuts, as it awaits clarity from the federal government on whether any support will be available to offset New York’s Covid-19 revenue losses, Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for the state Division of Budget said in an emailed statement. “Nonetheless, we appreciate the judiciary’s good faith efforts to reduce costs just like every Executive agency has been asked to do by freezing hiring, new contracts and pay raises,” Freeman said.

‘Grave Concern’

The New York Unified Court System is one of the largest in the U.S., and has a budget of nearly $3 billion.

The reduction plan put forth by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and the system’s administrative board includes a hiring freeze, cutting all non-personal services spending, and deferring substantial payments owed to the next fiscal year, according to the letter.

The board also decided to deny certification or recertification of 46 elected judges, saving more than $55 million over the next two years, according to the letter and court system spokesman Lucian Chalfen.

Each year elected state supreme court judges between the ages of 70 and 74 can apply for certification to continue sitting until they are 76 years old, Chalfen said in an email Wednesday. There were a total of 49 judges requesting certification or recertification, of which all but three were denied, he said.

“This will far better help enable the court system to avoid layoffs, or greatly reduce the number of layoffs should that extreme measure become unavoidable,” Marks wrote.

This isn’t the first time the court has faced deep cuts. The state’s Judiciary budget was cut $170 million in the 2011-12 budget, he said.

Chalfen said this year’s reductions would not affect plans to consolidate the court system, which currently includes 11 courts — more than any other state in the nation.

The New York State Bar Association President Scott M. Karson on Wednesday called the cuts a “matter of grave concern,” because they will “inevitably create hardship for litigants and delay the administration of justice.”

“The association is keenly aware that these are difficult times, but that makes it even more important that our federal and state governments work together to find revenue sources and restore this money,” Karson said. “Let’s make sure that justice delayed is not justice denied.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Keshia Clukey in Albany, N.Y. at kclukey@bloomberglaw.com

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