September 30, 2021

The New York Civil Liberties Union wrote to Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks about the Office of Court Administration’s practice of issuing secret directives to judges instructing them on how to interpret court decisions affecting important constitutional rights. The NYCLU submitted a FOIL and expressed serious concerns about this practice, requesting that the OCA provide copies of all memos of this type issued over the last ten years.

The practice recently came to light with the revelation of an OCA memo, marked “confidential,” instructing judges to adopt a restrictive reading of an important court decision safeguarding the due process rights of New Yorkers. The OCA is the administrative arm of the court system, tasked with overseeing the operations, staffing, and day-to-day support of New York’s courts. However, it was reported that the OCA has been going beyond issuing administrative guidance.

In June 2021, a New York appellate court issued a landmark decision in Crawford v. Ally, holding that New York must provide people charged with crimes a hearing before they can be subjected to an order of protection that may remove them from their home or otherwise separate them from their families. In July, reporting from New York State Focus revealed that the OCA had issued a memo instructing judges that this decision does not require them to hold full and robust hearings.