NYCLU claims ‘secret memos’ from court administrators advise judges on tough decisions

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State court administrators have sent “secret memos” advising judges how to rule on challenging cases, the New York Civil Liberties Union said Friday, demanding a look at the documents.

The NYCLU wrote the state’s Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks to express “serious concerns” and filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the directives.

The NYCLU says it learned of the unusual practice through a confidential Office of Court of Administration memo that instructed judges how to interpret a June court decision regarding New Yorkers facing an order of protection.

“Judges decide cases every day that affect the lives and rights of people throughout New York state, and it is critical that this decision-making is independent and transparent to the public,” said Daniel Lambright, an NYCLU attorney.

“But the OCA, which is an administrative agency and not a court, appears to be directing judges how to rule on cases through internal memos not made known to the public.”

An OCA spokesman accused the NYCLU of embellishing details that overstated the significance of the communication.

The appellate ruling concerned stay-away orders. The midlevel appeals court ruled that people who are significantly affected by an order of protection — such as losing access to their home or children — have a right to a second hearing on the evidence against them.

In the wake of the decision, OCA sent a memo to judges advising “full and robust hearings” weren’t necessary in light of the decision, the NYCLU said.

A spokesman for OCA said the memo only concerned logistics in light of the ruling.

“There is no practice of secret directives. There are no secret directives,” said Lucian Chalfen. “So, hyperbolic misinformation aside, there was a memo from the deputy counsel for criminal matters explaining how logistically this Appellate Decision could work in the real world of daily New York City Criminal Court operations.”

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