Queens DA boosts OCA budget to upgrade courts

Supreme Court Criminal Term Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas called the funding increase “a win all-around.”  Eagle  file photo by Andy Katz.

Supreme Court Criminal Term Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas called the funding increase “a win all-around.” Eagle file photo by Andy Katz.

By David Brand

The Queens District Attorney’s Office has pitched in to upgrade courtroom technology in the Queens Supreme Court, Criminal Term Courthouse by using asset forfeiture funds to boost the court system budget.

The DA’s Office contributed more than $1.67 million to pay for improvements in 19 courtrooms, the New York Law Journal reported. The money was included in the state budget that lawmakers approved on Monday.

“This is a win all-around for everybody — the judges, the prosecution and the defense,” Criminal Term Administrative Judge Joseph Zayas told the Eagle, adding that the courtroom tech will also aid people in the gallery, the press and the jurors.

“We always try to address any Americans with Disabilities Act issues where a juror has a hearing problem or a disability,” he continued. “This allows us to be able to buy that type of equipment to make sure it’s working and that people are hearing things.”

Assemblymembers Ed Braunstein, Catalina Cruz, Aravella Simotas, David Weprin, Michael DenDekker, Alicia Hyndman, Jeff Aubry and Brian Barnwell played a major role in ensuring that the line-item for Queens court funding appeared in the final budget.

Overall funding for the Office of Court Administration increased by roughly 2 percent, matching the increase requested by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks. The court system budget totals more than $2.33 billion.

DiFiore and Marks estimated that overall costs in the Queens Supreme Court system would equal $56,474,036.

OCA welcomed the funding increase, including the cash infusion from the Queens DA’s Office.

“We are grateful to both the governor and legislature during this year’s budget process for their unwavering support of the Judiciary’s fiscal needs,” OCA spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told the Eagle. “The $1.675 million was money that the Queens County district attorney gave us out of their asset forfeiture funds to upgrade courtroom presentation equipment and technology infrastructure for 19 courtrooms in Queens County Supreme Court - Criminal Term in Kew Gardens.”

Only five Criminal Term courtrooms feature flatscreen technology for jurors and counsel. The money will fund new screens and video technology to make courtroom processes more efficient.

“What this does is really helps the defense and the prosecution in terms of getting that evidence-presentation technology in the courtroom as soon as possible,” Zayas said.

Some courtrooms at the Queens Supreme Courthouse lack functioning audio and visual equipment and judges have on occasion purchased their own equipment to make proceedings more efficient and accessible. Justice Ira Margulis, for example, purchased a projector, large screen and sound bar to enable jurors, attorneys and audience members can see and hear evidence and proceedings.

The new state budget also allocates a significant amount of money for criminal justice reform initiatives, including $200 million to expand the Raise the Age program. Last year’s budget included $100 million to fund Raise the Age as municipalities moved all 16-year-old detainees from adult jails into specific juvenile facilities.

New York City also moved all 17-year-old detainees off Rikers Island and into a designated youth jail in the Bronx ahead of the state Raise the Age schedule.

By Oct. 1 of this year, all 16- and 17-year-old detainees in the state will be housed in separate jails from adults.