NY COMMERCIAL DIVISION CALLS UPON VOLUNTEER LAWYERS IN RESPONSE TO BUDGET CUTS

October 12, 2020 in COVID-19 Alerts

On October 6, 2020, Justice Andrea Masley, of the Supreme Court New York County’s Commercial Division, issued an order in complex contract dispute denying appointment of a judicial hearing officer or court referee to supervise discovery in the two-year old case. While Justice Masley’s order recognized the “burden[]” of the “multitude of discovery issues” facing the parties, the reality facing litigants and the New York Courts is that budget cuts and hiring freezes have left the New York Courts understaffed with growing dockets. With a decreasing number of judges and no special referees, Justice Masley turned to the special discovery master program implemented by the New York County Lawyers Association back in 1976, through which attorneys may volunteer during times of economic crisis to serve the Office of Court Administration. Through this program, Justice Masley appointed a highly experienced senior lawyer as a volunteer special discovery master with all powers provided by CPLR 4201. A copy of the order can be accessed HERE.

Justice Masley’s Order was issued one day after Chief Judge Janet DiFiore posted a message to the state court website explaining that the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated “a strict [judiciary] hiring freeze, deferral of [judiciary] raises, suspension of [the] JHO [(Judicial Hearing Officer)] program and other hard choices.” As a result, justices in the Commercial Division, established in 1995 as a specialized arm of the New York State court system to address highly complex Finance and business litigation, lack the bandwidth to handle discovery issues “without extraordinary impingement on the court’s regular business.” In this regard, the Commercial Division is not appreciably different from state and federal courts around the country: e-discovery disputes pose enormous challenges and require alternative methods of resolution for commercial cases to progress.

Justice Masley’s order recognized, however, that “justice delayed is justice denied” and reminded litigants that because of initiatives like the special discovery master program, “the Court is not without tools and volunteers to unburden parties as they labor toward a trial or resolution.” Justice Masley made sure to thank Mr. Alcott along with “the many other retired attorneys who volunteered” for the special master program.