Last month, Presiding Justice Alan Scheinkman invited the legal community into his courthouse to celebrate its past. On Wednesday, he invited members of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association in to talk about the future of the courthouse.
“I was fortunate enough to be appointed presiding justice by Gov. Cuomo, and it has really been an extraordinary 10 months,” said Justice Scheinkman. “Every time the Clerk of Court April sees me she’s afraid that I’ll have another idea, or another project. We’ve been very busy.”
“He has a lot of ideas,” said Clerk of the Court Aprilanne Agostino in agreement.
Justice Scheinkman was speaking to members of the BWBA as part of the group’s regular “Lunch with a Judge” series on Wednesday. The series allows members of the bar association to get to know local judges in a relaxed and intimate atmosphere where they can ask questions and raise concerns. Judges often talk about their careers or issues going on in the courthouse.
One of the growing concerns at the Appellate Division is that it keeps growing. Initially, Justice Scheinkman said, the division housed eight judges and the chief judge. However, the court has grown in size and now includes 21 associate justices plus court staff.
“There isn’t enough room in this building and it has become mostly a non-resident court,” he said.
To overcome this, Justice Scheinkman explained that the court has taken practical steps to introduce more technology where it can, including a new electronic device policy for lawyers.
“We have a new upgraded website that April and our technology people worked hard to create,” he said. “There is a new section called ‘New and Noteworthy,’ that is filled with items of interest for the bench and the bar. Upping the use of Skype for conferencing and on occasion oral arguments when there are weather problems or lawyers are coming from Suffolk County or Orange County.”
Appellate Division judges will begin experimenting with special calendars in an attempt to clear backlogs. The court is also launching a mandatory mediation project.
“Once a notice of appeal is filed, the attorneys will be called in for a conference before a retired judge of the court serving as a judicial hearing officer in an effort to see if the matter can be resolved,” he said. “The point is to try to see if cases can be resolved or, if nothing else, discuss if an appeal is still relevant.
“In order to accomplish this, we’re putting together a panel of retired judges and experienced lawyers who are willing to do this on a partly pro bono basis,” he continued. “That means the first 90 minutes of mediation are free of charge. The outcome is either a case is settled, it isn’t settled, or they can continue talking with the mediator, but at that point they have to work out an arrangement with the mediator for compensation.”
The BWBA will next host a mentorship committee meeting at the Brooklyn Bar Association on Oct. 17. Judges and lawyers who are interested in becoming a mentor or mentee are invited to attend.