Suffolk judges to tackle Bronx felony backlog

Judge Randall Hinrichs. (Oct. 2009)

Judge Randall Hinrichs. (Oct. 2009) (Credit: James Carbone)

Four Suffolk County judges have volunteered to serve on a judicial "SWAT team" tackling a major backlog of felony cases in the Bronx.

Suffolk County Administrative Judge C. Randall Hinrichs, and justices Joseph Santorelli, William Condon and Andrew Crecca, will join a pool of experienced judges from across the state, officials said Tuesday.

"These judges who volunteered are at the higher echelon of our court administration and are the cream of the crop," Bronx County Administrative Judge Douglas McKeon said of the Suffolk jurists.

"We are pleased to participate and are aware that the full extent of our participation is an evolving process," said Hinrichs, adding that steps will be taken to "minimize any adverse effect" on Suffolk caseloads.

Beginning next month and continuing for a half-year, the borough's oldest felony cases will either be brought to trial or resolved through plea deals under the special arrangement, court officials said.

The state's chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, has said the "SWAT team" will initially work on 271 felony cases that are at least 3 years old.

The Bronx also has 931 felony cases that are at least 2 years old -- the most in the city, records show. The borough with the second-largest number of outstanding felony cases that old is Manhattan, with 217.

Under state guidelines, felony cases should be resolved within six months of their filing. But the Bronx has 3,690 felony cases that are at least that old, accounting for 73 percent of total felony cases in the borough's court system, records show.

The numbers for the other boroughs are 52 percent in Queens; 48 percent in Brooklyn; 44 percent in Manhattan; and 25 percent on Staten Island, records show.

The Bronx case backlog began to spiral out of control after the 2004 merger of the Bronx Criminal Court, which usually handles misdemeanors, and the borough's Supreme Court, which handles felonies.

Lippman's predecessor as chief judge, Judith Kaye, merged the courts in an effort to relieve a backlog of misdemeanor cases. Kaye cut into the backlog by sending those cases to Bronx Supreme Court justices between felony trials.

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