In 2009, the Commission determined that James P. Gilpatric, then a Judge of the Kingston City Court, Ulster County, should be admonished for failing to render decisions in a timely manner in 47 cases, notwithstanding that he had previously been cautioned by the Commission for delays and that his administrative judge and several litigants had inquired about the delays. The Commission found that such delays constitute “serious misconduct because of the adverse consequences on individual litigants, who are deprived of the opportunity to have their claims resolved in a timely manner, and on public confidence in the administration of justice.”
In an opinion dated December 15, 2009, the Court of Appeals affirmed that the Commission has jurisdiction to investigate complaints of delay in the rendering of decisions and, where appropriate, to pursue formal disciplinary proceedings and impose discipline for inexcusable delay. Matter of Gilpatric, 13 NY3d 586 (2009). The Court in Gilpatric effectively reversed the holding in an earlier case, Matter of Greenfield, 76 NY2d 293 (1990).
In Greenfield, the Court had held that decisional delays generally “can and should be resolved in the administrative setting,” and that the Commission could impose discipline where the judge “has defied administrative directives or has attempted to subvert the system by, for instance, falsifying, concealing or persistently refusing to file records indicating delays.” Id. at 298. In Gilpatric, the Court stated: “after nearly twenty years of experience with Greenfield, we think it is not workable to exclude completely the possibility of more formal discipline for [delays], in cases where the delays are lengthy and without valid excuse.” 13 NY3d 586, 589-90 (2009).
The Court in Gilpatric held that “lengthy, inexcusable delays may…be the subject of disciplinary action, particularly when a judge fails to perform judicial duties despite repeated administrative efforts to assist the judge and his or her conduct demonstrates an unwillingness or inability to discharge those duties.” Id. at 590. The Court remitted the case to the Commission for further proceedings to determine “whether these delayed decisions were inexcusable and whether the problem could have been, or was, adequately dealt with administratively.” Id.
In 2010, based on stipulated findings of fact and conclusions of law between the judge and his attorney and the Commission’s Administrator, Judge Gilpatric was admonished for delays in 26 cases that were lengthy and without valid excuse. In its determination, the Commission explained the adverse consequences of such delays:
We view such delays as significant misconduct because of the adverse consequences on individual litigants, who are deprived of the opportunity to have their claims resolved in a timely manner, and on public confidence in the administration of justice. Twenty-two of the delayed matters were small claims actions, which generally involve relatively simple issues and do not require a lengthy analysis. The “informal and simplified” procedures for small claims are intended to provide litigants with an efficient and just resolution to their legal disputes (Uniform City Court Act §1804). This goal is thwarted and litigants are adversely affected when decisions are unduly delayed. Litigants in such matters, who are often unrepresented and are hoping to receive a prompt adjudication of their claims, have little recourse when months pass without a decision; understandably, they may be concerned that if they complain about the delay, they risk antagonizing the judge who will be deciding their case. The cases depicted in this record offer a cross-section of the kinds of disputes that the “informal and simplified” procedures of small claims are intended to resolve expeditiously. In cases where the law required a decision to be issued within 30 days, a man claiming he was owed $1,900 by a relative had to wait seven months for a judgment; a tenant seeking the return of her $800 security deposit had to wait eight months for respondent’s decision; and respondent took nine months to decide a customer’s claim seeking $90 from a hair salon. To the litigants who filed these claims, the sums at issue were significant and the delays onerous. Moreover, for some litigants such cases may represent their only personal involvement with the courts, and an unduly delayed resolution of their dispute would necessarily have the effect of leaving them with the impression that our judicial system is inefficient and insensitive to their concerns.
Adapted from the 2010 Annual Report, page 16 and the 2011 Annual Report, pages 11, 97-106.