By Jacob Kaye
Courts across town are experiencing a shortage of court clerks.
Faced with budget deficits, a hiring freeze and semi-closed courts last year, the number of court clerks in New York has seen a decline.
“[The number of clerks has] has declined over the years, ”said a Queens Supreme clerk who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal. “I understand that we had budget problems and all that, but when [the OCA] loses people through attrition, they don’t replace them.
In the past two months, as the courts worked on a full reopening, judges who were fired during the pandemic have been asked to return to sit on the bench. But employees are wondering when their ranks will be replenished.
In June, there were 11% fewer court clerks in New York than in March 2020, according to the Office of Court Administration.
In Queens courts, including the Queens Supreme, Family, Criminal, Civil, Queens County Clerk and Surrogates courts, there are currently 265 clerks, 15 fewer than last March.
At the Queens Supreme Court, eight of the 30 judges currently do not have an assigned clerk. But according to some clerks who are still employed, this is only part of the problem.
“Partial clerks are just a small part of the clerks for me as there are hundreds of other clerks in the building,” said the clerk. “We take care of everything from the start of the case to the time a judgment is rendered, and all the queries, and so you have a back office, people doing all of that. So now the workload of these people has doubled.
According to Queens Supreme Court Justice Joseph Esposito, having a permanently assigned clerk makes the courtroom more efficient.
“If you have a clerk who knows your role and knows you, it just allows for a seamless operation,” Esposito said. “The clerk knows how you operate, the clerk knows what you like and knows what you need. “
Esposito, who recently completed his first jury trial since being recertified to the judiciary earlier this year, added that while he does not have a permanent clerk, each court clerk is well-qualified to ensure the smooth running of cases. trial.
“The employees are very experienced,” he said. “If you have a clerk, even if it’s not always the same clerk, they know what they’re doing.
But the shortage has nevertheless done little to help the backlog of cases, which has increased dramatically during the pandemic.
“No matter how many cases a judge tries to handle, if the clerks don’t prepare all the cases, they are saved,” the clerk said. “People have been waiting for three or four years for their case to be judged. And it’s the trusteeship issues and all those things, where there’s a huge amount of paperwork that goes with it. And everyone is in pain.
Last year, a hiring and promotion freeze in all courts was put in place. For those clerks who passed the promotion exam well and were put on the promotion list, the pandemic has taken a heavy toll.
“The test you are taking is no joke,” said the clerk. “People spend hundreds and hundreds of hours studying for this and they’re languishing on the list. [OCA has] Twice froze the list in the last three tests because there are budget issues then the pandemic, which is understandable, but you never get it back. “
To add to the current shortage of clerks is the impending retirement of many clerks who were hired during a boom period for the courts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“30 years ago it was like the biggest recruiting they’ve done into the justice system and so all of these people are coming of age right now,” the clerk said. “We have five or six employees in my building who are retiring, or who retired about a month ago, and no one has been hired to replace them.
The OCA was able to fill a number of clerk positions ahead of the pandemic, according to a spokesperson for the agency.
In addition, the OCA intends to fill other positions in the near future.
“We are also in the process of filling various clerk positions in New York,” the spokesperson said. “Currently, we have vacated approximately 35 clerk positions in New York with more to come in the coming weeks.”