For some CASES’ employees, the courthouse is their everyday workplace. CASES’ 36-member Court Operations team works from courthouse offices in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens. Our Court Operations staff are often the first CASES representative our participants encounter—typically at especially high-stakes moments: arraignment and/or disposition hearings that determine if an individual will be sent to jail or prison or have the opportunity to return to the community with the support of a CASES program.
No one day in the courts is like the next. The events below describe a recent day at the Manhattan courthouse for CASES’ Court Liaison Specialists Lea Schell, Sara Feit, and Ashley Dills along with Katie Herman, Supervisor for Criminal and Supreme Court.
Lea sits in the CASES office on the 13th floor of the New York State Supreme Court on Centre Street in Manhattan. The room is lined with workstations, some reserved for specific staff, others available as mobile stations to accommodate the frequent travel required for the Court Operations team, who often move between the courthouse and CASES’ offices in Tribeca, Central Harlem, and Downtown Brooklyn.
Lea starts the morning by completing reports for today’s scheduled court appointments. This process is a key part of CASES’ provision of support and supervision to our participants in the community and efforts to maintain transparency and accountability to our court partners. This morning, Lea completes three reports on participant progress in CASES’ services before heading to three different courtrooms between two buildings to submit the documents. When she arrives at each courtroom, she reviews the daily calendar to make sure the participants are listed before delivering the report to a court officer.
Crossing the street on her way back to the CASES office, she spots an attorney she’s scheduled to see later in court. Lea informs him that the progress report for one of their mutual clients has been submitted.
“The most challenging part of my job? Working with the lawyers and other partners to make sure that our participants who need treatment plans after they’re released get the proper care they need,” Lea says. “Ensuring that an individual with substance use or mental health issues has secure housing and is enrolled in a treatment program can sometimes be the difference between success and failure in our programs, and ultimately in their cases.”
Back in CASES’ courthouse office, Lea talks with Sara, who has been asked to screen a defendant for potential eligibility in a CASES’ alternative-to-incarceration (ATI) services. Lea tells her this same person has been recommended to three CASES’ programs. As Sara scans the documents she will use later to interview potential participants, Lea welcomes a participant, a 24-year-old young man in CASES’ felony ATI program (the Court Employment Project) who’s due to appear in court today.
“He’s a sweet person,” Sara says. “You can tell he may be feeling depressed and needs to talk to someone, but he still was involved in this crime.”
CASES’ programs provide a range of services in the community that can be tailored to each young person’s individual education, employment, family, and behavioral health needs. The young man in the court office has missed several of his in-person appointments with program staff, and the CASES team is working to help him complete his ATI program so he avoids incarceration.
Sara goes downstairs to Arraignments. This is the first stop in the courts for people who have been arrested and processed through a police precinct. She sits watching the court staff and the public defenders move from desk to desk as they prepare to arraign the group of people sitting nearby in handcuffs. Sara points out different public defenders who are critical partners in identifying and advocating for defendants to receive an ATI mandate to CASES.
Next, Sara walks over to Part F, where she spends most of her time. This Part is home to cases initially charged as felonies but not yet indicted. She checks if any CASES’ participants are scheduled to appear before the judge as she charts her priorities for the day.
Katie is on her way across the street to Part 73. Even with the implementation of Raise the Age (raising the statutory age of adult criminal responsibility in New York from 16 to 18), some youth cases—on a case-by-case basis—remain in this part of the Supreme Court system. When Katie arrives, Nicholas Barrington, a CASES Court Representative, is appearing on the record for another young person in CASES’ Court Employment Project.
So far, most of the morning has been spent sitting, watching, and waiting with the occasional dash between courtrooms and CASES’ courthouse office.
“Court is like its own time zone,” Katie says. “Another one of our colleagues waited three hours yesterday for a courtroom staffer to bring her one sheet of a document that was critical for one of our participants.”
Outside the courtroom, Nicholas introduces the participant, a young man, and his family to Katie. Nicholas is moving to Albany soon to start a Master of Social Work program, and Katie will take over his cases until a new Court Representative is hired. The family asks questions about bail money they posted, the program’s required phone check-ins, and their son’s enrollment in school. They seem happy with his placement with CASES.
Ashley has been away from the CASES office most of the morning. Earlier, she was called to screen a potential participant held by the NYC Department of Corrections, which oversees the pens where people in custody are kept until their case is called in front of the judge. The man’s case is called before Ashley can finish the screening, so she has to collect her things from a locker and run from Corrections to the courtroom for the hearing. After the case is finished, they both return to finish the screening, but Ashley can sense the participant is already discouraged after hearing in court that he may be facing jail time.
Next, Ashley stops by the misdemeanor courts. Today they are nearly empty. She says the courts aren’t always this quiet, but slow days give her a chance to catch up on things. Since there aren’t many cases being called, Ashley gets the opportunity to talk to one of her favorite judges, who cares deeply about the people who appear in her court and has proven supportive of CASES’ ATIs and other similar community options.
One of Katie’s clients is scheduled to appear in court soon, but she doesn’t know if he’s “been produced”—or gone through proper registration protocol for someone incarcerated who must appear in court.
“I don’t know why they call it that or why it takes so long,” Katie says. “A lot of the people who have to come from jail have been woken up by guards and put in vans at 4 AM. And they’re local, they’re just coming from Rikers.”
Her client has a mental illness, and his lawyer is recommending that he be sent to Bellevue Hospital. Katie checks in at the courtroom. Nothing. She goes back to the CASES courthouse office to do other tasks while she waits. Soon, she’ll return to the court to see if the client has finally arrived and, if the opportunity arises, to advocate on his behalf. When it eventually does happen, after the several hours of waiting, Katie says the participant’s time before the judge will likely last only a few minutes, with a quick decision about whether the client will be gaining access to mental health treatment or returning on the bus back to Rikers.