MANHATTAN (CN) — The heads of New York’s court system reached a settlement Thursday in a challenge to the backlog of Bronx criminal cases that has allegedly caused tens of thousands of people to languish in jail while awaiting trial on petty misdemeanors.
With approval from U.S. District Judge George Daniels, the settlement institutes a four-year stay during which the New York State Unified Court System and the Office of Court Administration must meet with stakeholders, share data with the plaintiffs and track cases when a person demands trial.
Jennifer Brown, an attorney for the challengers with the firm Morrison and Foerster, says the settlement allows for the attorneys to spot problems and address them as to not let the system slip back into its old habits of delay.
“As they say ‘What gets measured gets done,’” Brown said in an email, referring to a provision of the settlement that creates a new “Trial Request Tracking” system, which forces the court system to measure how long it takes to get a trial once a defendant in eligible cases demands trial.
“We believe this new tracking system will lead to speedy trials getting done in Bronx criminal court,” Brown added.
In addition to ranking as New York’s poorest county, with the South Bronx alone holding the title of poorest district in the nation, the Bronx is the borough with the most court delays. When the case was originally filed by lead plaintiff Christopher Trowbridge, the average wait to receive a jury trial in the Bronx was 99 percent higher than in Manhattan.
The Bronx Defenders, a public-defender nonprofit organization, have been representing the plaintiffs from the start.
“In 2016, when we filed this lawsuit, the right to trial had become meaningless in Bronx Criminal Court,” said Scott Levy, special counsel for The Bronx Defenders, said Thursday in a statement. “People charged with low-level offenses were effectively trapped in a long, painful process of seeking their day in court.”
Since filing the lawsuit, misdemeanor cases pending for over a year dropped form 2,378 to 513, according to the press release.
“This settlement is only the beginning,” said Ilann Maazel, of Emmery Celli Brincerhoff and Abady, also representing plaintiffs, in the press release. “We will be watching the Bronx court system very carefully to make sure they live up to their promises, achieve parity with other boroughs, and make speedy trials reality for everyone in the Bronx.”
According to the settlement, if the plaintiffs do not reinstate the litigation in the four-year settlement period, the claims will be dismissed.
Representatives for the state did not respond to email or a call seeking comment.