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Group says criminal court decisions need to be made public more frequently

  • / Updated:
  • Staff Report 

Government accountability groups want increased transparency in New York criminal court decisions. This comes after a new report finds only 6% of decisions are published annually.

Since the number of judges presiding over criminal cases isn’t made available by the court system, it’s uncertain how many judges aren’t publishing decisions. Of the 600 New York criminal court judges publishing at least one decision, 20 were responsible for 28% of all decisions published.

Oded Oren, executive director of Scrutinize, a judicial accountability group, explained why transparency is so important.

“When decisionmakers or New Yorkers need to make a decision about whether to reappoint or re-elect a judge, it is important that they have information before them to understand how this judge is applying the law and what their decisions are,” Oren said.

Without these written decisions, assessing judicial decision making and its impacts are much harder. One concern is a person’s identity being made public in a published ruling.

Oren pointed out that, instead of putting a person’s full name, judges can use a person’s initials, their last name only or simply redact that information.

While laws are on the books about how decisions can be published, they’re not being enforced. Reasons these decisions aren’t being published include judges having high workloads, or feeling their day-to-day rulings aren’t so important.

Rachael Fauss, senior policy analyst with Reinvent Albany, said there are ways to make it easier for judicial decisions to be published.

“Sometimes oral decisions are given, so a judge will say what the decision is and there’s a transcript of that,” Fauss said. “So, the transcripts could get published in the cases where there is not a written decision.”

The report’s recommendations include passing a bill requiring written decisions by criminal court judges to be publicly available online. This legislation will be introduced during the 2024 session of the New York State Legislature.