|PJ Stephen Baratta in street clothes, with Court Admin Jill Cicero|
Back in the early '80s, there was just one custody master, Harry C.J. Blair. A Master is a lawyer who hears custody disputes and then makes a recommendation to the Court. Though people waited three hours or more to get in front of him, Blair resolved 95% of the cases he heard. But that was "a different day and age," noted Judge Baratta.
There have been changes in custody law and proceedings are much more adversarial. Only about 45% of them settle at the master's level because the process has become an "attorney-driven" instead of a "court-driven" exercise. Matters that do eventually settle, for the most part, are placed on non jury trial lists, but only when the attorney is ready to do so.
Instead of one part-time custody master, there are now three. In addition, two former judges who are beyond Senior Judge status listen to some of these cases.
"These matters are languishing far too long," complained the President Judge. He wants to get the judges more involved in the process. So he is proposing the elimination of all the part-time custody masters. They will be replaced by one full-time custody master who will ensure that the process is once again driven towards mediation and resolution, as opposed to an adversarial process. In addition, President Judge Baratta and Senior Judge Leonard Zito will ride herd, with the goal being a resolution in four to six months.
This will save taxpayers $45,000 per year, Court Administrator Jill Cicero told Council.
What do you say to a guy who tells you he wants to do things better and can save you money at the same time?
That's pretty much what Council's Personnel Committee did last night.