It is desirable that the trial of causes of action should take place under the public eye, not
because the controversies of one citizen with another are of public concern, but because it is
of the highest moment that those who administer justice should always act under the sense of
public responsibility, and that every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own
eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed.
Justice Oliver Wendell Homes
Cowley v. Pulsifer
137 Mass. 392, 294 (Mass. 1884)
The Fund for Modern Courts is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to
improving the administration of justice in New York. Founded in 1955, and led by
concerned citizens, prominent lawyers, and leaders of the business community, Modern
Courts works to make the court system more accessible, efficient, and user-friendly for all
New Yorkers.
The centerpiece of Modern Courts' efforts is our groundbreaking citizen court monitoring
program, which gives citizens a powerful voice in how their court system is run. Our
monitors, who now number more than 600 in over a dozen counties throughout New York
State, have succeeded in obtaining numerous tangible improvements in the state’s courts.
This report details the findings of our citizen court monitors regarding the Saratoga County
Family Court. We hope their recommendations will help to obtain improvements for the
residents of Saratoga County that the court serves.
For additional information, please contact:
The Fund for Modern Courts, Inc.
351 West 54
New York, New York 10019
Telephone: (212) 541-6741
Fax: (212) 541-7301
E-Mail: [email protected]
Disclaimer: The comments and findings contained in this report are not to be construed
as an endorsement, either implied or express, of any candidate for any office. Any such
use is unauthorized by the Fund for Modern Courts.

THE PROJECT.......................................................................................................... 1
Court Monitoring in New York State .................................................................... 1
The Capital District Court Monitors...................................................................... 2
II. THE FAMILY COURT IN NEW YORK STATE............................................................. 4
Public Access......................................................................................................... 4
Caseload................................................................................................................. 5
Family Court Judges .............................................................................................. 5
Hearing Examiners ................................................................................................ 6
Appeals Process ..................................................................................................... 6
III. THE SARATOGA COUNTY FAMILY COURT .............................................................. 7
The Population It Serves: Saratoga County.......................................................... 7
Caseload................................................................................................................. 7
IV. THE JUDGES............................................................................................................ 9
Hon. Gil Abramson................................................................................................ 9
Hon. Courtenay W. Hall ...................................................................................... 12
IV. THE HEARING EXAMINER..................................................................................... 15
Arthur Spellman, Esq........................................................................................... 15
VI. ATTORNEYS.......................................................................................................... 17
Law Guardians..................................................................................................... 17
Other Counsel ...................................................................................................... 18
Counsel in Support and Collection Cases............................................................ 18
VII. NON-JUDICIAL COURT PERSONNEL ...................................................................... 20
VIII. SOCIAL SERVICE AND SUPPORT AGENCIES........................................................... 22
Department of Social Services............................................................................. 22
Department of Probation...................................................................................... 23
IX. OPERATIONS......................................................................................................... 24
Delays and Adjournments.................................................................................... 24
Scheduling ........................................................................................................... 24
Audibility ............................................................................................................. 24
X. FACILITIES............................................................................................................ 26
XI. RECOMMENDATIONS ............................................................................................ 28
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ..................................................................................................... 31
THE CAPITAL DISTRICT COURT MONITORS .................................................................... 32

Court Monitoring in New York State
The Fund for Modern Courts is a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization
dedicated to improving the administration of justice in New York State. Since 1975, Modern
Courts has sponsored court monitoring programs around the state, through which ordinary
citizens observe and evaluate their courts, report their findings, and issue public
recommendations for improvement. Today, groups of court monitors are active in 16
For over twenty-five years, court monitoring has proven to be highly successful at
achieving numerous public-interest objectives, including:
publicizing problems that exist in the courts;
successfully urging those responsible for the courts to make
improvements, particularly in how the courts serve the public and how
their personnel treat the public; and
educating citizens about the daily functions and operation of their
courts; thereby creating a constituency of citizens who understand the
problems facing the courts and who are supportive of the courts'
efforts to function efficiently and effectively.
Monitors are non-lawyer volunteers who have a sincere interest in the efficient
operation of their local courts. They look at the courts from an outsider's viewpoint, thereby
providing a fresh, common-sense perspective on how the courts can be improved. During
the monitoring project, these volunteers observe proceedings in a particular court for a period
of several months, and complete forms designed to help them to evaluate all aspects of the
court's performance, ranging from the demeanor of the judges to the physical conditions
under which the court operates. Modern Courts then publishes the monitors' findings in a
detailed report, which is sent to the judges and court personnel observed, the administrators
of the state court system, state and local legislators, the news media, and other interested
Modern Courts' citizen court monitoring program has been influential in solving
many of the problems that ordinary citizens face in the courts. Monitors' comments:
have aided in the establishment of in-court child care facilities in
numerous courthouses across the State.
led to the implementation of a "staggered" calendar, modeled directly on
monitors' recommendations, which has drastically reduced both waiting
time and overcrowding.
have led to a renewed commitment to courthouse upkeep by local

Monitors were also influential in the State Office of Court Administration to
introduce a mandatory "civility training" program for all non-judicial court personnel.
On a larger scale, monitors' reports were instrumental in encouraging the State
legislature to pass the Court Facilities Act of 1987, which has led to construction of
desperately needed new court facilities around the State. In the Third Judicial District, for
example, the county converted an old jail facility into a new courthouse for the Rensselaer
County Family Court. The court opened in 1998, replacing a deplorable facility that had
been criticized by monitors in several reports. Other new courthouses are scheduled for
construction over the next several years. Monitors' reports also influenced recent reforms to
make jury service less burdensome.
Overall, citizen court monitoring has improved communication between citizens and
the judiciary, heightened the court system's sensitivity to public needs, and helped to ensure
that those needs are met.
The Capital District Court Monitors
The Capital District Court Monitors observe and report on courts in Albany,
Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady Counties. In 2001, the Capital District Court
Monitors chose to evaluate the conditions in the Saratoga County Family Court.
The family court deals with some of society's most serious problems, involving
children and families in crisis. However, due to its status as a “lower” court within the
current court system, it has been forced to operate with fewer resources than the state’s so-
called "superior" courts. Moreover, public attention has rarely been focused on the
operation of the family court, since it often functions as a "closed" court (although, in
1997, changes have been instituted to open family court proceedings to the public and
press). Much needed reforms will be instituted only when the public is made aware of the
actual conditions in the Family Court, which is why the Capital District Court monitors
chose to undertake this project.
Monitors also wished to evaluate another aspect of the Family Court’s operations:
a pilot project unifying the family and matrimonial divisions. Under New York’s
antiquated and labyrinthine nine-tier trial court system, in order to obtain a divorce, the
parties may be required to litigate different issues in as many as three separate courts.
While the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over divorces, custody and support issues must
be heard in the Family Court; and in cases, where family offense proceedings are
involved, the parties must also go to County Court. Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has
proposed a constitutional amendment that would create a permanent solution to these
problems by consolidating the court system’s nine tiers into two, and elevating the Family
Court to a division of Supreme Court, thus enabling one judge to preside over all aspects
of such cases. However, this plan has encountered significant political opposition. As an
interim solution, the Judge Kaye and the Office of Court Administration established a
pilot project creating unified family and matrimonial divisions. The Fourth Judicial
District, which includes Saratoga County, was chosen to inaugurate the program.

Under this program, Saratoga County Family Court Judges have been designated
Acting Supreme Court Justices in order to handle all the County’s matrimonial cases.
This designation allows Family Court judges to integrate matrimonial proceedings with
custody, visitation, child support, and other ancillary issues that commonly arise in
divorce cases and hopefully will reduce the time, energy, and resources expended by
litigants who have in the past had to maneuver between multiple courts and multiple
An orientation for the project was conducted an orientation session for the
monitors at the Family Court facility on September 30, 2001. At the orientation, Family
Court Judges Courtenay Hall and Gil Abramson, Hearing Examiner Arthur Spellman, and
Chief Clerk Susan Samascott spoke to the volunteers and provided an overview of how
the court functions. The presentation ended in a tour of the court facility. Modern Courts
former Capital District Coordinator Helga Schroeter distributed court monitoring
handbooks and monitoring forms and gave instructions to the monitors on the court
etiquette and procedure. The monitors began their visits to the court the following week.
Ms. Schroeter also held two additional meetings with the monitors, one midway
through the project, and one after the project's conclusion. At these meetings, monitors
shared their observations and experience, and formulated joint recommendations.
Summarized below are their findings regarding all aspects of the Saratoga County Family
Court, including court personnel, operations, security, the physical facility, and the
performance of various agencies that serve users of the Family Court.

In 1962, the New York State Legislature passed the Family Court Act, which created
a statewide Family Court. The Family Court replaced the Domestic Relations Court of the
City of New York and the Children's Courts outside New York City.
The Family Court was given jurisdiction over most issues involving children and
families, including paternity, custody, visitation, child support, child abuse and neglect,
delinquency, and violence and abuse among family members. The Family Court does not
have jurisdiction over divorce, separation, or annulment proceedings, which are heard in
Supreme Court. Jurisdiction over adoptions is shared with the Surrogate's Court, which also
oversees inheritance cases.
Family Court differs from the other courts in New York’s justice system in several
ways. First, there are no jury trials in the Family Court. Second, unlike the criminal courts,
it was not designed to mete out punishment for criminal offenses. Third, when the Family
Court was created, it was not intended to be adversarial; rather, it was intended to be a
"remedial" court, in which a judge uses the professional staff of the court and of other
governmental and private agencies to devise programs to resolve family problems. This
distinctive approach is reflected in the terminology used in Family Court: Plaintiffs,
complainants, and the prosecution are called "petitioners"; defendants are called
"respondents"; trials are designated "fact-finding hearings"; and sentences are known as
"dispositional orders." However, in today’s Family Court, children are usually represented
by counsel; adult parties also may be represented by counsel, whether private or assigned.
Moreover, the Family Court must resolve some of the most intimate, contentious problems
facing individuals and families. Thus, as a practical matter, it is indeed an adversarial court.
Public Access
Although the Family Court technically is an open court (and has been “open” since
its inception), the often-sensitive nature of proceedings has led many judges and court
administrators to operate as though it were a closed court. In addition, most Family Court
courtrooms are small and unable to accommodate large numbers of spectators.
In June, 1997, the Office of Court Administration issued new rules reaffirming that
the Family Court is an open court, and directing that the public and press be given broad
access. The rules, which became effective on September 2, 1997, provide that
the Family Court is open to the public. Members of the public,
including the news media, shall have access to all courtrooms,
lobbies, public waiting areas and other common areas of the Family
Court otherwise open to individuals having business before the court.
Judges may exclude the public only on a case-by-case basis.

Since the Family Court began operations in 1962, a substantial increase in the
divorce rate, the drug abuse epidemic of the 1970s and 1980s, and the emergence of child
and domestic abuse as social problems have contributed to an explosion in the Family
Court's caseload. In 1985, a total of 391,322 cases were filed statewide; ten years later, that
number jumped to 591,577. By 1998, there were a total of 663,603 filings in Family Courts
across the state. While a staggering number of drug-related cases flooded the family and
criminal courts in the late 1980s, more recently, the growth of Family Court filings has been
spurred by increases in cases involving child custody, child support, and termination of
parental rights.
In the past five years, filings in the Family Court have slowly increased. From 1998
to 1999, filings increased by a mere 72 cases to 663,675. A more substantial increase of
18,310 occurred between 1999 and 2000. Statewide Family Court filings in 2001 totaled
682,347 which represented a slight increase from the 2000 figure of 681,985. In 2002, there
were 711, 697 filings which represented a 4 percent increase from the previous year’s total.
Family Court Judges
Eligibility: Outside of New York City, Family Court judges must be residents of the
county in which they serve. (In New York City, they must be residents of the city.) All
Family Court judges must be attorneys admitted to the bar for at least ten years prior to
assuming office.
Method of Selection: All Family Court judges outside of New York City are
nominated in countywide, partisan primary elections and then elected in a countywide
general election. (In New York City, Family Court judges are appointed by the Mayor by
means of a merit selection process.)
Tenure: Family Court judges serve ten-year terms. If a judge is unable to complete
a term, the governor appoints an interim judge to fill the vacancy until the next general
election. Family Court judges may serve until a mandatory retirement age of 70.
Salaries: The standard salary for Family Court judges in Saratoga County is
$119,800, which is identical to the salary scale of Family Court judges in Albany,
Rensselaer, and Schenectady Counties. However, their counterparts in New York City, Long
Island, and Westchester County earn $136,700 per year.
As part of its 1999-2000 budget request, the Office of Court Administration sought
substantial pay raises for members of the judiciary. Action by the New York State
Legislature in 1999 substantially raised judicial salaries, but left in place the disparity
between NYC, Long Island, Westchester county salaried and those in other parts of the state.
This disparity harking back to the period prior to 1977 when municipalities, rather than the
state, were responsible for the costs of court administration.
There are currently two full-time judges in the Saratoga County Family Court.

Hearing Examiners
The position of Family Court Hearing Examiner was established by the New York
State Child Support Enforcement Act of 1985 in response to federal funding regulations
aimed at increasing and expediting collection of support payments.
Hearing examiners are not judges, but they are authorized to hear and make decisions
on support and uncontested paternity matters. Decisions made by hearing examiners are
binding. However, litigants dissatisfied with a hearing examiner's decision may object, and a
resolution of the objection will be handled by a Family Court judge. Hearing examiners are
not authorized to issue warrants or to hold individuals in contempt of court; they must
forward requests for such actions to a judge.
Hearing examiners have greatly eased the burden on judges by hearing support cases,
which can be time-consuming and place growing demands on the court's time. Hearing
examiners often advance to judicial office.
Eligibility: The Uniform Family Court Rules of the State of New York mandate that
hearing examiners "shall be attorneys admitted to the practice of law for at least five years
and shall be knowledgeable with respect to Family Court procedure, family law, and federal
and state support law and programs."
Method of Selection: Candidates are appointed by the Chief Administrative Judge of
the State of New York, after screening in each judicial district by a commission consisting of
the district administrative judge, a Family Court judge, and a representative of the Chief
Administrative Judge.
Salaries and Tenure: Hearing examiners in New York State earn $78,103 annually.
They serve three-year terms, with reappointment at the discretion of the Chief Administrative
The Saratoga County Family Court has one full-time hearing examiner and one part-
time hearing examiner.
Appeals Process
An appeal from Family Court is heard in the Appellate Division of Supreme Court.
(New York State is divided into four Judicial Departments; appeals from the Saratoga
County Family Court are to the Appellate Division, Third Department.) Further appeals are
brought before the Court of Appeals, New York State's court of last resort.

The Population It Serves: Saratoga County
Saratoga County is part of the four-county region, including Albany, Rensselaer, and
Schenectady, loosely identified as New York's "Capital District." Saratoga County is
bordered on the south by Albany County, home of New York's capital city. It has a
geographic area of 812 square miles. Ballston Spa serves as the county seat. As of the 2000
US census, the county's population was 200,635 which represents a substantial increase from
1990 census figure of 181,276.
Total Filings in the Saratoga County Family Court,
The total filings in the Saratoga County Family Court have steadily increased in
the past few years after experiencing a measurable decline in 1999. In 1998, there were
7,297 total filings. However, a significant decline occurred in 1999 (6,817 filings) that can
be attributed in large part to a decline in custody and support filings for that year as
illustrated by the following chart. However, total filings have increased each year since
2000 when there were 7,032 total filings. In fact, filings totaled 7,738 by 2002.

1998 1999 2000 2001 2002
Total Filings by Petition Types in the Saratoga County Family Co
Family Offense
Persons in Need of
Supervision (PINS)
Juvenile Delinquency
Child Protective
Uniform Support of
Dependents Law (USDL)
All Other
In recent years, the overwhelming majority of the cases filed in the Saratoga
County Family Court have been support or custody cases with support filings increasing at
a greater rate than custody ones. For instance, in 1998, there were 2,931 custody filings.
By 2002, this number had actually dropped to 2,897. However, for the same period,
support filings increased from 2,642 in 1998 to 3,071 in 2002.
Another notable trend was the dramatic increase in child protective filings during
the period. In 1998, there were 218 child protective filings. This number had more than
doubled by 2002 to 585 filings.
In 2001, the year that the monitoring project began, the majority of cases filed
were support (2,826), custody (2,758), followed by child protective (585), family offense
(383), PINS (346) and then juvenile delinquent (244) cases. Paternity (183) and USDL
(61) filings constitute a relatively small portion of the Saratoga Family Court’s caseload.

Following are the monitors' evaluations of each judge in the Saratoga County Family
Court. Monitors did not evaluate the judges' decisions or legal knowledge. Rather, they
focused on their demeanor; their attitude toward litigants, attorneys, and court personnel;
their efficiency in carrying out their duties; and their ability to maintain control of the
This section includes biographical data on each judge and summaries of the monitors'
findings. The judges are listed alphabetically by last name.
Hon. Gil Abramson
Judge Gil Abramson is a graduate of State University of New York (SUNY) at
Albany, the Graduate School of Public Affairs at SUNY Albany, and Albany Law School.
Prior to taking the bench, he served as a law guardian, a Deputy Town Attorney for the
Town of Halfmoon, Assistant County Attorney in Saratoga County, and Chief Counsel for
the New York State Senate Committee on Children and Families.
Governor George Pataki appointed Judge Abramson to the Saratoga County
Family Court in March 2000.
General Observations
Thirteen monitors made a total of twenty observations of proceedings in Judge
Abramson’s courtroom.
Monitors found that "Judge Abramson has a friendly and welcoming manner" in
the courtroom " while maintain[ing] an orderly but relatively informal atmosphere in his
Monitors described Judge Abramson as an "affable" and "informal" judge. They
reported that he was “generally informal in demeanor” and even referred to attorneys as
“you guys” but “comes across as very concerned [about the] children in the court.”
Another observer felt that he “had [a] good understanding of tension among participants”
therefore “used humor whenever appropriate to ease the situation.” Other monitors agreed
with this assessment noting that Judge Abramson was “good” at making “informal
comments to lessen tensions” and “often times the judge relates things in the courtroom
directly to him, which makes everyone a bit more comfortable” One monitor witnessed a
hearing during which " he uncharacteristically lost his temper” yet the monitor noted that
he “regained his composure quickly."
In general, monitors found that Judge Abramson had a good rapport with litigants
and others in the courtroom. He made “efforts to put youth at ease” and seemed "very

compassionate” to litigants. One monitor remarked, "The judge was professional but tried
to show a "human" side. For example, he asked to see a photo of a baby whose mother
was seeking custody" of the child. In another case, an observer noted, "Both respondents
felt comfortable telling him they couldn't hear or didn't understand [and] in both cases
Judge Abramson spoke up and explained what he had read." Another monitor reported,
“Twice today he complimented clients who had worked out agreements between
Monitor also found that "the judge seem[ed] to have a good rapport with attorneys
and agency people." One monitor observed, Judge Abramson offer a law guardian
“conference” space “when he found out she was going to the her car to study [the] case
for an afternoon return in a pending case.”
The monitors were particularly impressed by the patience that Judge Abramson
exhibited when interacting with litigants and attorneys. One monitor observed, he “took
great care and showed patience [when dealing with] young clients – asking them, “What
do you want to do?” or asking, “What of two choices would you prefer?” Another
reported, “He took time to discuss a proposed agreement with the [a] young man who had
responded with “sort of” to the judge’s question about the understanding of the proposal.”
Another monitor observed, “He was patient with the attorneys as they spoke to
their clients.” However, one monitor noted that although he generally “has patience” that
patience did not extend to respondents in “nonpayment of support” cases.
Monitors generally found that Judge Abramson was “professional.” They praised
him for ensuring that “most cases have some resolution or specific ‘next steps’ even if
temporary” and for "trying to [schedule] court dates without delay." Monitors also praised
him for his thorough explanations: “He always explains what exactly is going on and asks to
make sure the parties both understand why they’re there and what the consequences are.”
However, some monitors felt that he was sometimes too “informal,” including one monitor
who felt that his “use of language was sometimes unprofessional.” As an example, the
monitor noted that he used the phrase “scared the crap out of …” in the courtroom.
Command of Courtroom
Monitors found that Judge Abramson consistently maintained control of the
courtroom. One monitor commented, “Judge Abramson works in a collaborative manner
with lawyers, agency representatives, and doesn’t stand on a lot of ceremony.
Nonetheless, he is definitely in control.” Another noted that he “doesn’t hesitate to lecture
or give advice when warranted (about getting treatment for substance abuse, for
example).” One monitor also observed, "Judge Abramson emphasizes the importance of
following his orders by explaining the consequences of not doing so with clear details."
“He can also be tough when the situation calls for it - making it very clear to a young
woman that she would have to attend school or face [foster] placement and incarcerating a
man who had failed to pay support,” another monitor approvingly noted.

Monitors repeatedly commented that Judge Abramson was “difficult to hear” and
that “audibility was a problem” in his courtroom. Monitors attributed his inaudibility to a
“quiet” voice” and to the fact that “often times he mumbles.” One monitor reported that
Judge Abramson even acknowledged that his audibility “could be improved” because he
sometimes “mumbles.” Several monitors urged Judge Abramson “to speak louder and
more clearly.”

Hon. Courtenay W. Hall
Judge Courtenay W. Hall is a graduate of Colgate University and Albany Law
School. Prior to taking the bench, he served as an attorney in private practice, Assistant
County Attorney in Saratoga County and later as the County Attorney.
Governor George Pataki originally appointed Judge Hall to the Saratoga County
Family Court in 1998. He was subsequently elected on the Republican ticket to the Family
General Observations
Twelve monitors made a total of twenty-three observations of proceedings in
Judge Hall’s courtroom.
Monitors described Judge Hall as a "concerned," "courteous," and "patient" judge
who sometimes injected "humor" into the proceedings. Monitors also found that Judge
Hall was "professional" and maintained control of the courtroom.
One monitor observed, “I had the opportunity to observe Judge Hall in a number
of different roles today – as Family Court Judge, Acting Supreme Court Judge and as
backup Surrogate; He performed well in all.”
Monitors praised Judge Hall's "friendly" and "courteous" manner when interacting
with litigants and other parties during the proceedings. One monitor reported, “Judge Hall
is courteous, using sir or ma’am and often thanking witnesses, attorneys, and litigants for
their time.” Another monitor noted that he was “very friendly with children." This monitor
observed one interaction in which the Judge Hall "invited [a] youngster to approach the
bench to show his toy" which resulted in the child and mother being "very responsive” to
his questions. Other monitors noted that he “gives good advice to teens" and “is
extremely complementary" to attorneys for "their thoroughness and hard work for their
Monitors also found that Judge Hall consistently showed concern for the litigants
in his courtroom. As one monitor noted, “He shows consistent concern for litigants often
leaning forward to listen attentively and using a kind tone to ask questions.” During one
case, a monitor observed that Judge Hall appeared "particularly concerned [about] a
mother [who was] giving up her parental rights. He “explained her rights and the
procedures very carefully” and called a “recess for her to review surrender instruments."
Another observer noted, “He was concerned about everyone being relaxed and not
nervous in the courtroom.” Yet another monitor praised Judge Hall because he “showed
concern for schedules for all involved in arraigning dates for later proceeding.”
Monitors also found that Judge Hall “appeared to be quite patient.” It was noted
by one monitor that “he waited while counsel discussed options with their parties or

clients.” One monitor observed, “occasionally, he loses his temper but keeps control
[and] regains composure.”
Monitors commented on Judge Hall's injections of “occasional humor" during the
proceedings. They found that Judge Hall "made a point to make jokes and relate to the
petitioner and the respondent on a more personal level” and that, at times, “he relieves
tension with humor particularly with attorneys and often at his own expense.” One
monitor he has a "crisp, dry style-humor" which seemed to the monitor as "a little flip but
not offensive.” However, another monitor felt that some of Judge Hall's “remarks meant
as humorous [were] not always understood as such by participants.”
One monitor noted that Judge Hall maintained a "good balance between formality
and informality." Another monitor listed several examples of “formal” behavior, noting
that Judge Hall "uses Mr. and Mrs. rather then first names" and "announces names for the
Monitors repeatedly described Judge Hall as “professional" because they found
that he was thorough, "well-prepared," and "efficient."
Monitors found that Judge Hall was thorough when explaining rulings or
procedures to litigants. They noted that his "explanations were clear” and that he was
"careful to [en]sure that respondents are aware of their right to counsel and that they
understood what matters were before the court, and which [were] not, and what the
previous orders the court ” had made. In general, as one monitor put it, he “makes sure
that everyone knows what is going on.”
As one monitor noted Judge Hall “was usually well prepared – opening one case
with a set of questions for attorneys which he invited them to address, in order, the matters
he felt were most crucial.”
Several monitors reported that Judge Hall was efficient in his use of court time.
one monitor remarked, “Judge Hall uses court time efficiently – intervening to ask
questions about matters he wants considered and limiting discussion of things that he
finds irrelevant.” Another monitor observed, “He is efficient, mindful of moving cases
forward but never rushing anyone." For example, "in one case, where [the] attorneys
appeared exasperated, as they saw an agreement two hours in the making seem to fall
apart, Judge Hall calmed everyone, including a distraught litigant, by calmly telling the
parties to take their time and promising to interrupt his upcoming trial to hear the[ir] case
when they were ready.”
Command of Courtroom
Monitors reported that Judge Hall maintained control of the courtroom. One
monitor observed, “Everyone present is very respectful of the judge and knows that he is
in control.” While one monitor felt that Judge Hall "warns attorneys in a friendly manner
if he feels that they are overstepping in any way," and yet another noted that “he can strike
a tough note in order to maintain order." This monitor noted that on several occasions

Judge Hall held "up his hand and saying 'not yet' to quiet litigants who started to speak out
of turn.”
Monitors agreed that Judge Hall "spoke clearly and loudly enough for everyone to
hear.” In fact, one monitor referred to him as “easily audible.” Another praised, “Judge
Hall spoke clearly and was perfectly audible even from the back of the courtroom.”

Following are the monitors' evaluations of the sole hearing examiner in the Saratoga
County Family Court during the project. As in their reviews of the judges, monitors focused
on such qualities as demeanor, professionalism, and ability to maintain control of the
Arthur Spellman, Esq.
Mr. Spellman is a graduate of Lehigh University and Albany Law School. Prior
to his appointment as a hearing examiner in 1985, he served in the United States Air Force
and later as an attorney in private practice. Mr. Spellman has retired since this monitoring
General Observations
Twelve monitors made a total of sixteen observations of proceedings in Mr.
Spellman’s courtroom.
Monitors described Mr. Spellman as “businesslike,” and “organized” in running
his courtroom. They reported that he “audible,” “maintained control” of the courtroom
and “efficient” in the management of his caseload.
Monitors described Mr. Spellman as having a “fairly stern” and “impersonal”
demeanor. One monitor observed, “He did not greet those who appeared before him but
simply started by reading what the case entailed.” Another monitor made a similar
observation, noting that “He sp[oke] quickly never looking at people” and “seems cold
and impersonal during sessions.” Nonetheless, this monitor found that Mr. Spellman was
“pleasant when talking with staff.” Another monitor also noted his “easy communication
with staff” and found that Mr. Spellman and his staff “operated as a cohesive team.”
Monitors felt that Mr. Spellman did make effort to be “courteous” and provide the
litigants with useful information. One observer reported, “Mr. Spellman is courteous -
apologizing for any delays, addressing litigants as sir or madam and wishing them Good
luck to you’ as cases concluded.” Another monitor, who noted Mr. Spellman’s practice of
wishing “both parties ‘good luck’ when they left the courtroom,” felt that by engaging in
this practice that Mr. Spellman “showed some compassion towards” the parties.
However, another monitor commented, “He always ends by saying “good luck” to people
but he doesn’t look at them.” One monitor praised him for suggesting to parents who
indicated that they were unable to afford health insurance for their children that they
enroll in New York State’s Child Health Plus Plan.
Some monitors felt that Mr. Spellman was “impatient” and “cut people off mid-
sentence” during the proceedings. One monitor observed, “He lost his patience several
times.” In one case, the monitor observed, “A woman did not understand why he couldn’t

make a decision on her case, instead of explaining the proceeding in simple[r] terms, he
just kept getting frustrated and raising his voice.”
However, another felt that Mr. Spellman was “understanding and patient up to a
point but quickly cut people off if they become argumentative or they bring up irrelevant
matters.” For example, the monitor reported, “After trying twice to explain the law to a
man who had some mistaken ideas about his case, Mr. Spellman finally announced “This
proceeding is over.” At other times, he took time to help correct errors in petitions,
recommend [that] parties try to resolve differences, and gave information about mediation
services.” Another monitor agreed, noting “he spent time and energy trying to keep the
petitioners on track and to keep them from interrupting each other.”
Monitors generally described Mr. Spellman as “professional.” They found that he
was “attentive” to details and “efficient.” Monitors found that “Mr. Spellman is all about
business. He got people in and out very quickly” but “not hurried.” As one monitor put it,
he was “well organized and efficient in running his court.”
In general, monitors found that Mr. Spellman’s “explanations were clear and
detailed” and that “he [was] careful to explain procedures” to litigants such as “the
application of the support formula, the right to counsel and trial, and what information
litigants should be prepared to provide.” One monitor agreed that Mr. Spellman provided
“very complete explanation” but felt that these explanations were “spoken [too] quickly”
and “often using language perhaps not easily understood by youths.” Another monitor felt
that “the hearing examiner didn’t do a lot of explaining but he asked all who appeared
whether they understood the procedures.”
It appeared to one monitor that Mr. Spellman “was chewing gum” during the
proceedings” and the monitor felt that this was “not so professional.”
Control of Courtroom
Monitors reported that Mr. Spellman maintained “absolute control of the
courtroom.” One monitor remarked, Mr. Spellman “always maintains control” by
“giving firm directives or [by] asking pointed questions to keep discussion to the relevant
facts of the case.”
Monitors found that Mr. Spellman had a “clear voice” and was “very audible.”
However, several monitors felt that he sometimes spoke too “quickly.” One of these
monitors observed, “Mr. Spellman was very audible except he spoke way too quickly. I
often didn’t know what he was saying because he spoke [so] fast.”

During the course of the project, monitors observed a variety of attorneys at work in
Family Court, including law guardians, court-appointed attorneys, deputy county attorneys,
assistant district attorneys, attorneys from local government agencies and attorneys in private
Overall, attorneys received praise for their efforts to provide suitable
representation under extremely difficult circumstances. Monitors generally found that
that the attorneys that they observed were “well prepared,” “professional,” and “highly
competent.” In regards to their demeanor, monitors observed that attorneys generally
were “courteous” to their clients and the judges and “very respectful” of the court in
general. Several monitors also noted that attorneys from various agencies and office
appeared willing to cooperate in order to resolve difficult issues. One monitor observed,
"All the attorneys (ADA and the law guardian and probation) seem to be working in the
best interest of the kids." As one monitor put it, the attorneys generally “did a good job.”
Law Guardians
Under Section 241 of the New York State Family Court Act states that "minors who
are the subject of family court proceedings originating in the family court should be
represented by counsel of their choosing or by law guardians.” By safeguarding the legal
rights of children, law guardians play an essential role in Family Court proceedings.
Overall, monitors were impressed with the performance of the law guardians who
appeared in the Saratoga County Family Court. They reported that the law guardians
generally appeared “emphatic,” “well-prepared,” and “vigorous[ly]” advocated for their
However, there were instances where some of the monitors observed law
guardians that had not met with the children that they were representing before the case
came to court or "seemed not to have all the relevant information regarding the
Monitors pointed out several law guardians for their exceptional performance in
the family court. One monitor noted that law guardians “Mr. [Paul] Maher and Ms.
[Karen] Judd took extra time to talk with their clients and that Ms. Judd and Ms. Redmond
made strong presentations.” Another observer felt that Marine Onderdonk "stood out"
because she appeared "very concerned about her clients' well-being and despite appearing
to be just a little nervous made a passionate plea for her recommendations." Another
monitor noted that, in one case, law guardian "Van Swisohn was very persuasive on the
behalf of the kid [and] had obviously been in touch with the school and the [child's]
grandmother." Law guardian Patricia Slater also received praise from a monitor for being
"well versed" on her cases.

John LaBoda particularly impressed the monitors. One monitor who observed Mr.
LaBoda was involved in multiple cases described him as “exceptionally well prepared”
and “knowledgeable.” This monitor approvingly noted that he even “volunteered to
follow up on “vacation time” on a different custody case which was no longer his
assignment.” Another monitor praised, “Mr. LaBoda was well prepared and well
organized for trial and was vigorous and thorough in his performance taking time to
consult with his clients and [their] parents.”
Other Counsel
Monitors had the opportunity to observe many other attorneys in the family court in a
wide array of cases including attorneys from the Legal Aid Society, Saratoga County Public
Defender's Office, and other assigned counsel who represented indigent litigants. Also,
attorneys from the Saratoga County Department of Social Services, who represented the
County in a variety of cases, and deputy county attorneys who represented petitioners in
child support and paternity cases, were observed. In addition, privately retained attorneys
were observed in almost all matrimonial cases and in many other proceedings as well.
As was the case with the law guardians, monitors generally found that other
attorneys observed were "well-prepared," " courteous," and "professional." For example,
one monitor commented, "Ms. Brown of Legal Aid provided “a through and energetic
presentation of his clients position.” Another noted, Paul Martineau of the Public
defender's Office “seemed to have extraordinary compassion and support for his clients
and was aggressive in their defense.” Frank Dorsey of DSS was described as an "active"
participant in many cases and commended for his level of preparedness.
Some privately retained attorneys also received praise from the monitors. One
monitor commented that privately retained attorney Kevin Tollison "was really good [at]
explaining everything to his client when she did not understand. He was audible and spoke
very clearly." In another case, a monitor praised a privately rained attorney named Mr.
Chertock who “seemed particularly well-prepared and articulate in his questions and
The monitors did report some instances in which assigned counsel or an attorney
from the Public defender's Office “had not spoken to his client.” In matrimonial cases,
monitors found that some of the attorneys “seemed confrontational.”
Counsel in Support and Collection Cases
Monitors had fewer opportunities to observe attorneys in the support and
uncontested paternity matters heard by hearing examiner Arthur Spellman because many
litigants appeared without legal representation. Nevertheless, monitors did praise several
of the attorneys, many of whom were privately retained, that appeared in this part. One
monitor noted that one attorney "presented [a] non-support cases forcefully." Another
attorney was described as "really good [at] explaining everything to her client when she
did not understand." Yet another attorney was praised for being "very well prepared" and

On another note, one monitor noted that in support cases "when only one spouse is
represented [by counsel], the other spouse seemed intimidated." Yet another monitor
noted that "few people arrive [in the hearing examiner's courtroom] with attorneys [but]
when they do, you hear larger weekly orders of support but they still don't seem to be
settled faster.”

Non-judicial court personnel have an enormous impact on the public's perception of
the Family Court, as well as on the quality of justice that is dispensed. Litigants spend much
time outside the courtroom, dealing with court clerks, court officers, and other personnel.
In most courtrooms, court clerks, court officers, and sometimes a court reporter may
be present. Occasionally a foreign language or American Sign Language interpreter is also
available. Litigants often encounter these people outside the courtroom environment, during
intake, while waiting for cases to be called, or while arranging for support or other services.
Generally, monitors found court personnel to be “professional,” “pleasant,” and
Court Clerks
Family Court clerks are an integral part of the court's operations. In the Family
Court, the Chief Clerk and Deputy Chief Clerk handle a wide variety of functions, from
petition intake to maintenance of court records, and are responsible for the daily operational
activities of the court. The clerks are assisted by a variety of administrative and support staff,
who process much of the paperwork. Some of the clerks staff the petition intake desks and
assist litigants with their preparation. A petition is a written document that forms the basis
for a Family Court proceeding, and it is essential that they be prepared quickly and
Monitors praised the clerks that they observed in the Saratoga Family Court. One
clerk was described as “quietly efficient” by a monitor. Another monitor praised, “Judge
Abramson’s clerk is alert, attentive and active in assisting the judge. He thanked her for
her help on a number of occasions today.” Another monitor who had the opportunity to
observe that the petition clerk’s window only had “a short line” and “the clerk seemed
courteous and pleasant.”
Court Officers
Uniformed court officers provide security in the courtrooms and waiting areas, and
may assist with clerical duties. It is a court officer's responsibility to keep track of the parties
who have appeared for a hearing, and to gather participants when the case is called.
Monitors generally applauded the officers of the Saratoga County Family Court,
describing them as “helpful” and “polite.” Some offered specific praise such as the court
officer “was very polite to a petitioner who approached with a question” and referred her
to support collection office” or the court “officer at the entrance was especially polite
today apologizing for the delay and thanking me for my patience.” On a similar note, one
monitor reported, “The court attendant stationed at the desk [in the waiting area] was
pleasant and efficient, called cases clearly and directed people politely.” One monitor,
however, observed a court officer appeared to be asleep “during the last case” of the day.

One observer praised the level of security present in the Family Court. The
monitor reported, “Security appears to be very good. They always check my things even
though they recognize me."
Court Reporters
Court reporters are responsible for producing official transcripts of court proceedings.
For many cases, court reporters are not used in the Saratoga County Family instead the
courtrooms are equipped with microphones to record proceedings.
Taping of court proceedings has been permitted in New York State since 1992, when
it was introduced as a two-year experiment in the Court of Claims and the Surrogate's Court.
The experiment has since been extended and expanded to other courts, including the Family
Court. Under the current statute, certain Family Court proceedings cannot be taped; court
reporters are required for juvenile delinquency, PINS, and family offense cases. In addition,
as monitor noted, there was a court reporter present during the Supreme Court proceedings
such as matrimonial cases.
Court Interpreters
Foreign-language and American Sign Language interpreters were rarely needed to
translate court proceedings in the Saratoga County Family Court. However, the monitors
noted that when needed interpreters were available for litigants who do not speak English or
were hearing-impaired.

To help troubled families resolve their problems, the Family Court relies on
numerous governmental and non-governmental agencies. During the course of this project,
monitors observed representatives from some of these agencies at work in the Family Court,
acting as advocates for the parties involved and providing progress reports on children and
others who have been placed under their supervision.
The primary county agencies represented in the Saratoga County Family Court are
the Department of Social Services (DSS), which includes a Support Collection Unit (SCU),
and the Department of Probation. Additionally, monitors occasionally observed
representatives of the local school district and shelter and detention facilities.
Department of Social Services
DSS representatives appear in court in a variety of capacities. DSS is responsible for
child protective services: It investigates allegations of abuse or neglect, and if it finds
intervention necessary, it petitions the Family Court on the child's behalf. DSS also assists
the court in cases involving adoption or foster care placement, and its Support Collection
Unit aids persons seeking determinations of support and helps to collect support payments.
Monitors generally agreed that most DSS representatives were “professional and
“courteous.” On several occasions, however, monitors were critical of the Department of
Social Services, particularly the Support Collection Unit, for a variety of deficiencies.
Monitors praised the individual DSS representatives. One monitor praised, “Ms.
Patty Design [Support Collection Unit] seemed especially well prepared and well
organized.” Another approvingly noted, “Ms. Kwislowski [Social Services] expressed
energetic concern for the department’s clients.”
Monitors noted that although the vast majority of the DSS representatives they
observed appeared to be working extremely hard to do their jobs, poor record keeping and
the failure of other representatives to properly prepare for the case hindered them. For
instance, Joan Connors, a representative from the Support Collection Unit, who was
described by one monitor as “polite” and “professional” “was unable to give [Mr.
Spellman] a satisfactory answer as to why the petitioner had been misinformed by another
case worker.” Another monitor reported that another representative from the Support
Collection Unit “did not have records [dating] far enough back” in court “but [after a
delay was] able to get the necessary figures.” In yet another case, a monitor observed,
“The support collection [representative] in court to today was courteous and polite but
seemed a bit unprepared in court. In one case, in which the Department of Social Services
was the petitioner she waited until Mr. Spellman left the courtroom briefly then jumped up
to speak to the respondent who she apparently hadn’t seen before and asked her a number
of questions.”

Department of Probation
The Department of Probation assists the Family Court with evaluation of those
involved in certain types of cases. The Probation Department also supervises those persons
who have been sentenced to probation, and provides the court with reports on offenders'
behavior, in order to assist the judge in determining the proper disposition of the case.
The monitors observed representatives from the Department of Probation less
frequently than those from DSS. However, the Department of Probation representatives
seemed better prepared than DSS in many cases. One monitor noted that Ty Stacey of the
Probation Department “seemed prepared and on top of [the] paperwork.” This monitor
found that Molly Dyer also from the Probation department was equally “prepared.”
Another monitor observed, “Ms. Dwyer spoke encouragingly to a young PINS respondent
after his appearance.” There were, however, instances when the probation officer seemed
ill prepared as well. For instance, one monitor observed a “probation officer [who]
apologized for not having submitted a report but he was able to report orally to the judge’s

Delays and Adjournments
Monitors found that the hearing of support and paternity cases was often delayed
by “litigants not being present.” Monitors repeatedly observed that, in support cases,
court personnel "couldn't locate petitioner" or "one side of the case did not appear.” For
example, one monitor observed, "One trial began 15 minutes late to wait for the
respondent to show up. He didn't. This normal procedure.” Another monitor made a
similar observation: "Several of the 9 o'clock cases were either no shows or transferred to
one of the judges because there were warrants out for their arrests, this cased a long delay
in cases." Sometimes, litigants were delayed because litigants "were conferencing to
attempt to come to an agreement." Other times, it was the attorney who was late: "One of
the attorneys was appearing in another courtroom which delayed conferencing for this
As one monitor put it, "Whenever possible, cases moved along quickly." One
monitor observed, "There was a little downtime after 9 o'clock cases were finished and
before the 10 o'clock cases were ready to go. Mr. Spellman spoke to the [clerk] about
starting on another case" in which the litigants were already present. However, one
monitor noted that during an "1/2 hour delay waiting for people to arrive” that the
“hearing examiner and staff sat around making small talk."
Monitors had a similar experience in both Judge Abramson and Judge Hall’s
courtrooms. As one monitor noted, "waiting for participants" was a common comment in
the Family Court. One monitor reported that when the "judge asked the clerk about the
delayed [litigants]. [The clerk's] response that some still in conference, some were at jail."
Another monitor recounted an occasion when “while waiting for the parties to appear
Judge Abramson speculated they must be fighting about it, adding “Maybe I should go
and annoy them.” A little later he got up and went out, coming back...followed by the
litigants.” One case was delayed because “the court was waiting for the delivery of a
psychological report." Monitors noted that the judges usually made “good use of time
between cases” by working on their computers or answering questions.
Several monitors questioned the manner in which cases were scheduled. One
monitor noted, "This was a Friday and only 4 cases on schedule - only 3 [cases] heard and
[the session] ended at 9:55 AM." Another monitor remarked, "There were no delays but
there was some waste of calendar time as close to a full day had been allowed for today's
trial based on the attorneys estimate of the time that would be needed and it ended up
taking only a few minutes more than an hour."
Due to the smaller courtrooms and despite the fact that microphones were used for
recording purposes only and not for amplification, audibility was less of a problem than in
other courts. Monitors reported that they were able to hear in “most of the time.” They did,

however, sometimes have difficulty hearing Judge Abramson who “ spoke in a quiet voice”
or a soft-spoken attorney or witness. Monitors also found that audibility was hindered by
“construction noise from outside” and “voices from the hall” outside the courtrooms.

Since the monitors’ 1994 evaluation of the Saratoga County Family Court, its
facilities have been upgraded. The upgrade took place as part of a 1.45 million plan to
renovate and shift agencies within the five-building county office complex where the
court is located. The complex, located in Ballston Spa, consists of five brick buildings,
which surround a center courtyard.
The most significant change resulting from the renovations is that the hearing
examiner’s courtroom and office are now located in the same building as the two family
court judges’ courtroom and chambers. When the court was monitored in 1994, the
hearing examiner’s courtroom was located across the street on the second floor of a two-
story building that was formerly a private residence and in order to reach the courtroom,
one had to climb a narrow and step staircase. However, despite the renovations, monitors
felt that the family court facilities, particularly the public areas, could be improved.
As a general matter, monitors found that “overall, the facility seems clean and
well maintained.” However, monitors described it as “cramped.” As one monitor noted,
"There was a line at the entrance to the court - it wasn't long but it was inconvenient
because there is little room for a line at the entryway. People were . . . holding the doors
open as they waited for officers to check [their] bags."
Monitors were particularly concerned about the inadequate size and design of the
waiting area. On several occasions, monitors found that the waiting area was “crowded”
or “all chairs were filled.” One monitor reported, there is "not nearly enough seating in the
waiting area." The monitor felt that the waiting areas "could have used about 15 more
seats." Another monitor suggested that the building "needs . . .more small waiting areas
so that parties who are fighting can sit apart.” Another observer felt that “It is
unfortunate that the waiting area is both windowless and [has a] low ceiling.” The monitor
felt that this “makes for a slightly oppressive atmosphere.” Another monitor noted a
simply rectified “inconvenience - the waiting areas does not have a clock.”
Of equal concern, to the monitors, was the lack of conferencing space for
privileged discussion between attorneys and their clients. Monitors repeatedly reported
that that additional space was needed for attorneys to privately conference with their
clients. One monitor “there is certainly a problem with the lack of conferencing space.”
The monitor noticed, “There was a number of people conferencing in the hallway leading
to [Mr. Spellman’s] courtroom.” This monitor also noted, “One attorney told [the
monitor] that if she had had a private place to conference with her client they might have
been able to settle the case.”
Several monitors suggested a “childcare center should be added." They reported
that the presence of children was a distraction for the litigants and others in the court.
This led one monitor to conclude, “A child care facility would be valuable. Today a child
was crying loudly in the waiting area.”

Some monitors praised the condition in one public area- the public restrooms. In
fact one monitor gave the restrooms a grade of “A+.” However, one monitor did suggest,
“the ladies room could use a place for people to set [their personal items] while using the
facilities. The one shelf available is narrow and right by the door.”
Overall, monitors reported that signage at the Saratoga Family Court was
inadequate. As one monitor noted, the "exterior could use more signage. [It was] not
clear where to go when you get out of your car" Another monitor agreed that "the outdoor
[area leading to the building] needs attention” including larger signs and seating near the
door." One monitor felt that the “whole facility could use better signage, both exterior
and interior.” This monitor added, “A sign [inside] telling people where to go first would
be helpful.” Another observed recounted an incident in which “A women in a wheelchair
appearing in a case today was late as a result of having difficulty getting into the building.
She commented that they needed signs directing people to the accessible entrances.”
In general, monitors found that the courtrooms were “clean,” “well-lit” with “all
the furniture in excellent condition.”
Monitors found that the size of the courtrooms varied but were all “well-
maintained.” Monitors describe Judge Abramson’s courtroom as “small.” One monitor
reported, “The [Judge Abramson’s] courtroom was clean and bright. However, it was a bit
small at times. For several cases, there were not enough chairs for everyone in the room.”
Other monitors agreed this assessment. One noted that the courtroom "needed one more
seat." Another monitor felt that the "seating [was] adequate for small groups attending”
but that the “chairs and aisle [were too] close together making it diffi[cult] to get in and
However, monitors found that Judge Hall’s courtroom was “good sized and well lit
with two large windows,” and there were “an adequate number of comfortable chairs.”
One monitor commented, “this courtroom should have better equipment for proceedings
involving teleconferencing to ensure that the person on the phone can both hear the
proceedings clearly and [can] be heard.”
Monitors noticed that Mr. Spellman’s courtroom was relatively “large.” One
monitor felt that it was “spacious” in comparison to Judge Abramson’s courtroom.
However, on certain days, “there were not nearly enough seats available.” Several
monitors found that on occasion Mr. Spellman’s courtroom was “very noisy.” One
monitor found that “the noise from the conference room and hallway was very disruptive”
and suggested that “another doorway could be built to block out some of the noise.”

Saratoga County should address the court’s growing space needs.
Despite recent renovations, the family court facility still lacked sufficient
space to efficiently conduct its business. Monitors reported that, while the
courtrooms and restrooms appeared to be clean and well maintained, additional
space was needed in the facility. The small waiting room, which lacked a simple
clock, become so crowded that litigants and their families have no place to sit, and
there is no space for children to play while their parents tended to business.
Conferencing space was woefully inadequate: Attorneys and their clients must
conduct discussions in public waiting areas, jeopardizing attorney/client privilege,
and creating noise and chaos in the courthouse. A law guardian, who was unable
to return her offices during a short break in the proceedings, was almost forced to
work in her car. The monitors urge that the County reallocate space in the county
court complex in order to meet the needs of the Family Court’s litigants and staff.
The County should establish a child care center within easy reach of the court.
Currently, there are no child care facilities in or near the Saratoga County
Family Court. Monitors repeatedly observed small children in the courtroom or
waiting area. Children are a distraction their parents or guardians from their
business with court; they disrupt proceedings; and most important, they may be
traumatized by the nature of the proceedings themselves and the hostility among
family members. In-court child care centers currently exist in over 20 courts
across New York State, where trained staff keep children fed, entertained, and
under constant supervision. Construction of a child care center in Saratoga County
Family Court or within the county office complex would permit parents and others
to conduct court business efficiently and without distractions, while their children
are safe and supervised.
The County should improve exterior and interior signage at the Saratoga
County Family Court.
Monitors took much notice of the lack of signage in and outside of the
court’s facilities. Monitors felt that lack of signage could be confusing to litigants
coming to the court, particularly for the first time, and even delay their arrival to
courtroom. Monitors urge the County to improve the signage in the complex to
indicate where and how to reach the Family Court and provide additional
informational signs within the Family Court.
The agencies that serve the Family Court should improve staffing, resources,
and productivity.
The monitors witnessed frequent delays and adjournments resulting from a
lack of preparation by the agencies, particularly the Department of Social
Services’ Support Collection Unit, that serve the Family Court. Judicial personnel

depend upon timely reports from a variety of agencies to make informed rulings
that protect the parties’ interests; such information is especially important in
safeguarding the best interests of children. Repeatedly, monitors observed
proceedings that were delayed because agency did not have necessary information.
Monitors urge that the County to provide adequate resources to the agencies that
serve the Family Court, and that the agencies institute and enforce quality-control
measures to ensure that their clients’ interests are protected.
The Family Court should reduce the number of non-appearances in court.
Delays and adjournments in the Saratoga County Family Court often resulted
from litigants’ failure to appear. Monitors believe that there is an urgent need to
reduce the number of non-appearances in the Family Court in order to adjudicate
cases in a more timely and efficient manner. Monitors, and in some cases the court
personnel, were often unsure why litigants did not appear. Monitors urge the Office
of Court Administration to conduct a study of the causes (whether it be the failure of
respondents to be properly served or transport issues in the case of detained litigants)
of the vast number of appearances in the Family Court and possible solutions such as
the creation and enforcement of sanctions for non-appearances.
The New York State Legislature should pass Chief Judge Kaye’s court
restructuring plan.
Since 1997, New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye has a proposed
constitutional amendment to restructure the state’s court system. The amendment
would replace the current nine-tier maze of courts, which often have overlapping
jurisdiction, with a streamlined, less hierarchical structure. The amendment would
raise the status of the Family Court by merging it into Supreme Court. By raising the
status of family matters, the proposal would ensure that such cases would receive the
financial resources and other advantages afforded the Supreme Court.
To the monitors, this need is particularly urgent. The Fourth Judicial District,
which includes Saratoga County, was the inaugural district for the Office of Court
Administration’s pilot project creating unified family and matrimonial divisions.
Under this program, the County’s Family Court judges have been designated Acting
Supreme Court Justices and have been assigned to handle matrimonial cases, which
permits them to integrate divorce proceedings with custody, visitation, child support,
and other ancillary issues that commonly arise in such cases. As a result, Saratoga
County families undergoing divorce no longer have to divide their time, energy, and
resources between multiple courts and multiple judges. Observing firsthand the
benefits of unified family and matrimonial divisions, a limited form of court
restructuring, the monitors recognized the benefit to the state’s families from a
systemic overhaul of the New York’s State court system.
Like all proposed amendments to the State Constitution, the Kaye plan must
be passed by two consecutive State Legislatures and signed by the Governor; it then
must be ratified by the voters in a statewide referendum. Because the Family Court
serves families and children in crisis, and works to resolve many of New York’s most

pressing societal problems, the Senate and Assembly should reintroduce the Kaye
plan and give it first passage.

The Capital District Court Monitors and the Fund for Modern Courts wish to thank
Judge Gil Abramson, Judge Courtenay Hall, and Mr. Arthur Spellman for their
cooperation during this project. They permitted extraordinary access to Family Court
proceedings and readily answered monitors’ questions. We are grateful to them and to court
staff for their assistance. Very special thanks go to Chief Clerk Susan Samascott for her
willingness to answer questions and provide information, both during the orientation and
throughout the course of this project.
Modern Courts owes particular gratitude to Helga Schroeter, who coordinated the
project, and to the monitors themselves: Without their dedication, this report would not have
been possible. Their willingness to volunteer their time and efforts help to improve New
York’s courts for the public as a whole.
This report was written by Kimyetta R. Robinson, Modern Courts Director of Court

The following members of the Capital District Court Monitors participated in this project:
Virginia Adler
Cliff Ammon
Margot Ammon
Maxine Borom
Mary Ann Cleaves
Burr Deitz
Joan Elliott
Betty Gallagher
Janet Linkinhoker
Helga A. Schroeter
Lewis Taub
Marion Taub
Barbara Thomas
Dorothy H. Thompson
Margie Van Meter
Molly Varecka
H Jean Wilkinson