Comptroller Calls for Courts to Slow Down Eviction Cases

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander recently submitted a letter to the Mayor’s Office of Civil Justice to call upon the Mayor’s administration to request the courts slow down the calendaring of eviction cases to ease the demand on the city’s Right to Counsel program.

The context: Under a New York State law that was passed in 2017 and expanded citywide in January 2022, New Yorkers whose income is within 200 percent of the federal poverty level are guaranteed a lawyer when facing eviction proceedings. According to Lander, there are 164,285 ongoing eviction cases as of the end of the first week of May, a nearly 60 percent increase in seven months, and 73 percent of tenants facing eviction did not have legal representation. The comptroller says the data shows a violation of the tenant’s Right to Counsel, and that slowing down the pace of cases before the court will allow the providers to catch up.

Another issue the Comptroller brought up in the letter is the city’s new strategy of hiring private contractors to make up for the lack of public defense attorneys available to help with representation. Lander said that the strategy is “contrary to legislative intent…which states that the city should contract with not-for-profit organizations.”

One level deeper: Both former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and former acting Chief Judge Anthony Cannataro resisted calls to slow cases in Housing Court. But this stance could change under the new leadership of Chief Judge Rowan Wilson and Chief Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas.

Judge Rowan Wilson, a liberal-leaning jurist, was confirmed as chief judge of New York State’s highest court in April 2023. And he recently appointed Judge Joseph Zayas as chief administrative judge of the New York State Unified Court System, the highest-ranking administrative position in the state judiciary.

The chief administrative judge supervises the daily administration and operation of the Unified Court System, which has a budget of $3.3. billion, with 3,600 state and locally paid judges and nearly 15,000 non-judicial employees in over 300 courthouses spanning 62 counties.