Advocates for homeowners are concerned that consolidating about 12,000 Brooklyn foreclosure cases under three judges could bring more delays or compromise the quality of adjudication.
Though motions for summary judgment, default judgment and orders of reference had previously been spread out among 27 judges, Justice Lawrence Knipel, the administrative judge for civil matters in Brooklyn Supreme Court, decided last month to funnel the cases to Justices Noach Dear, Mark Partnow and Acting Justice Peter Sweeney.
Dear will handle foreclosure matters exclusively, while the other two justices will have their motion practice focused on foreclosures but will continue their trial work.
"If the existing amount of work for 25 judges is now concentrated among three, how is the work going to get done without either impairing quality of work or grinding things to a halt?" asked Jacob Inwald, director of foreclosure prevention for Legal Services NYC.
In support of the reassignments, Knipel noted how more than a year ago, he consolidated all guardianship matters with one judge. Supreme Court Justice Leon Ruchelsman brought about 450 cases to an annual or final accounting last year, compared with the approximately 250 cases that six judges resolved in years past.
"It works when you have dedicated people," Knipel said, later adding that he was "more than reasonably confident we're going to see significant improvement."
Spurred by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore's call for "objective, self-critical analysis" of court operations, Knipel said foreclosure motions have been "substantially slowed" because of the competing caseloads of the 27 judges in the Individual Assignment System.
Each IAS justice in Brooklyn at any moment has about 2,000 cases where they oversee motion practice, plus their trial work.
Out of Brooklyn Supreme Court's roughly 54,000 pending civil cases, Knipel said about 11,800 are foreclosures.
As result, Dear, who had overseen consumer debt cases in Civil Court before his election to Supreme Court, now has more than 6,000 residential foreclosure cases but no other assignments.
Knipel acknowledged consumer debt cases are a "different animal" than foreclosure cases. But he said Dear has "demonstrated an ability to manage a large calendar."
Sweeney is taking on about 2,000 of the oldest residential foreclosure cases, which are seven to nine years old. Partnow is being assigned the remaining non-residential, non-commercial cases.
Six other judges will resolve motions, which can require hearings, such as homeowner claims that lenders negotiated without good faith.
If a lack of good faith is found, the judge will keep the case through disposition. If not, the case will go back to Dear.
Knipel said he was open to revisiting the plan as it unfolds.
But attorneys for homeowners are wary.
"It is work to decide motions. It is work to conference cases. Human time is finite," Inwald said, noting that delays ultimately mean a larger debt incurred by the homeowner. "Time is definitely money in this context. The harm is very, very real."
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