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NYCLU Granted Access to Undisclosed Memos to Judges from Office of Court Administration 

NEW YORK – Yesterday, the New York County Supreme Court granted the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request, ordering the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA) to release, within six months, copies of all memos and directives issued since 2011 related to OCA’s practice of providing guidance to state court judges on how to interpret court decisions and statutes.

“The court’s decision is a major step in vindicating the public’s right to understand the workings of our judicial system,” said Daniel Lambright, senior staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Judges make decisions every day that affect the lives and rights of New Yorkers, especially the most vulnerable. It is critical that the influences behind this decision-making, which has enormous consequences for those at the mercy of the courts, are transparent to the public.”

A landmark June 2021 court decision in Crawford v. Ally held that New York must provide a hearing to people charged with crimes before they can be subjected to an order of protection that may remove them from their home or separate them from their families. This due-process safeguard is especially important for protecting the rights of Black and Brown defendants, who are disproportionately impacted by the issuance of orders of protection with minimal process. Despite this, reporting from New York Focus revealed that OCA had issued a memo instructing judges that this decision does not require them to hold full and robust hearings before issuing orders of protection.

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.

“The public has the right to know what information and guidance judges consider in deciding cases—especially cases that implicate core rights and racial equity for New Yorkers,” said Terry Ding, staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “We look forward to receiving the memos from OCA that will shed light on its role in the judicial process.”

You can read a letter from the NYCLU to then Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals Janet DiFiore and Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks, as well as the FOIL request here:

You can find case page materials here:

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