Waiting in Family Court
by Gary Port /
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December 21, 2007
I decided to jot down some of my thoughts about the system while I am waiting for a case to be called. Television and the movies have given people a skewed view of the court system. One thing that always surprises folks is the waiting. For example, it’s eleven o’clock and my case was scheduled for “trial certain” at nine. Whether I actually start my case today or not is still up in the air.
I don’t blame the judge. The simple fact is that the family courts are overwhelmed. For example, the Nassau Family court is housed in a building that was obsolete 20 years ago. There is no room for the volume of cases or to house new judges. Come to the Nassau Family Court on any day, and you’ll have to navigate packed hallways. There is no room in the courtrooms; there is no room in the waiting rooms and precious little room in the hallways.
It really is a tribute to the professionalism of the judges and court staff that anything resembling justice is accomplished. Most of the judges try very hard but the conditions of both the courthouse atmosphere and the heavy caseload can be very daunting.
For the client, it can be very frustrating to know that he is paying the lawyer by the hour and all the lawyer is doing is reading newspapers while waiting for the case to be called. I try to soften the blow by explaining the process at the beginning. When someone comes to me for a consultation or to hire me, I also show them my bag: it’s filled with magazines and newspapers.
The obvious question is “why don’t the courts use telephone conferences, so people don’t have to wait around?” In theory, it sounds great. Everyone could be taking care of business until the court is ready for the telephone conference. Telephone conferences are used in commercial cases and in federal court. Why then are the parties required to come to family and divorce courts?
There is no ”official” answer. But, it seems to me that people are less likely to settle a family law case if they are not physically present in the court. Not only have I noticed it, but so have several of my colleagues. Parties who cannot agree on anything will reach a settlement in the court’s hallways.
Well, got to run, the court officer is calling my name.