Like a hockey team with two skaters in the penalty box, Schenectady County Family Court has been at a distinct disadvantage since Christine Clark was sworn in as state Supreme Court judge in January. Her departure has left the court’s only other regular judge, Michael Powers, and a patchwork quilt of retired judges and fill-ins from nearby counties, to preside over the busy court — one that the state Office of Court Administration said as far back as 13 years ago needs a third full-time judge.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo needs to appoint Clark’s replacement as soon as possible, and address the OCA’s recommendation for a third judge.
Even before Clark left, Vito Caruso, the Fourth Judicial District’s administrative judge, says he was lobbying for a third judge to help reduce the court’s backlog. It’s one of the three busiest family courts in his 11-county region, and it not only needs the continuity that having regular, full-time judges provides, but more of them.
Instead, it’s been having to make do with Powers and four part-timers: two retirees acting in a limited capacity as judicial hearing officers and two judges from the nearly-as-crowded Saratoga County Family Court. The result has been more delays and inconsistency in dealing with important family issues like custody disputes. Is it any wonder that Caruso recently told a reporter, “We can’t do this long-term.”
It’s possible that Cuomo’s delay is politically motivated: He could be waiting for the full Schenectady County Democratic Committee to confirm its executive board’s recent endorsement of Kevin Burke to run for Clarke’s old seat in November. A vote is expected later this month. But the governor has had since Election Day to deal with this issue; that was more than four months ago.