New criminal courts chief shares his plans to streamline slow justice

Judge Barry Kamins, new chief of the city's criminal courts

New York City has one of the busiest criminal courts in the country, with nearly a million new cases churning through annually. Yet for the least three years they have been leaderless.

In what is now largely seen as a failed experiment, state court officials decentralized New York Criminal Court administration in 2008, allowing each county’s overseers to handle their own bureaucracy. Now though, with the appointment of Justice Barry Kamins as the chief administrative judge of the city’s criminal courts, the unified court system will once again be truly unified, at least for criminal cases.

“I want to create a better partnership between all the pieces of the puzzle” Judge Kamins told The New York World. “All the agencies are part of this process.”

Listen to Judge Kamins explain how he intends to bring the city’s unruly, delay-plagued criminal courts into line.

Judge Kamins wants to ensure the courts comply with a state law that requires a defendant be arraigned within 24 hours of arrest. At the moment the average time is 23.64 hours, but that’s leveled out across all counties. Sometimes it can take days.

“For the most part courts adhere to the rule,” he said, “but sometimes the answer is no, and that has to change.”

Judge Kamins is widely respected within the legal fraternity. He was appointed to the Brooklyn criminal court bench in 2008, and became Acting Supreme Court Justice the next year.

Before that he had served as assistant district attorney for Brooklyn, as well as practicing as a private lawyer and penning a seminal textbook for law schools, “New York Search and Seizure,” now in its 15th edition.

Judge Kamins declined to weigh in on the controversy surrounding the NYPD’s policy of “stop, question and frisk,” saying that it would be inappropriate for him to discuss it in his new role.

“I don’t think it’s for me to talk about from this position,” he said.

While he leads the New York City criminal bench, Judge Kamins says he also wants to do what he can to create a fairer juvenile justice system – a priority for the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman. Judge Kamins sits on the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission, an advisory board to Judge Lippmann on sentencing laws and practices in the state,  and is working towards introducing legislation that would reduce the number of young people going through the criminal justice system. Kamins says that one possible strategy may be raising the sentencing age for juvenile offenders over non serious crime. “Or it might be another model,” he said. “It might be that we have a family court and a superior judge sitting in the same room.”

A bill, recommended by the commission, is expected to be submitted to the state legislature for this year’s session.

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