Judge Eileen Koretz presided over the Midtown Community Court from 1997 until 2006. Before being appointed to the Criminal Court of the City of New York by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in 1995, she was an assistant district attorney in Bronx County for nearly two decades. She sat down to talk about the Midtown Community Court's award-winning computer technology.
The Midtown Court was one of the first in the country to use computer technology to bring up-to-date information into the courtroom. When you came to the court eight years ago, how did you respond to having a computer on the bench?
I really enjoyed playing with it and trying to see how much information I could get from it. On just one screen on the computer I can see if a defendant is homeless or not, whom they live with, what their education is, what their needs are, whether they’re in a drug program, how many times they’ve been to my court, whether they’ve completed the program at this court, what their record is, and so on. It’s just amazing to be able to have the information right in front of me and be able to make an educated decision. I can sit on the bench and a defense attorney might say, “My client has another case, but I don’t know who the lawyer is,” and we can bring up that information instantly.
When I work downtown in the traditional court now on nights or weekends, it’s very difficult for me to work without my computer, without the program we have at Midtown. I can do without it, but it always makes me realize how dependent I am on the computer and the information it affords me.
Now that you have all this information at arraignment, are you able to resolve cases at first appearance more often?
Yes. In most cases, the first time a defendant’s arrested they come before me and that’s it. If the case is not disposed of then it will go down to the traditional court for trial. My mandate is really to dispose of as many cases as I can the first time the case is on, not only because that’s efficient but because we at Midtown want to keep the defendants and give them community service and treatment at our court, not send them somewhere else.
How does the additional information affect your decision-making?
I think sometimes what happens is because you have so much information you can make better, more specific decisions. The D.A., for example, might make an offer that includes community service but because I have a lot of information on the defendant before me, I can see that this defendant has been to this court often, that we’ve tried everything, and I have all the notes from the treatment providers confirming this, and to me then it’s simple: he just goes to jail. If the D.A.’s office hasn’t viewed the same information, they might not know these other factors and that’s why they’re recommending community service.
On the other hand, sometimes the treatment staff will look at the whole picture and say, "Look, we really think that the defendant is interested in treatment and that he’s motivated to help himself and we recommend XYZ," and then I’ll do it, knowing the whole picture.
How could the system work better, in your opinion?
Right now we basically have New York City information and so we can’t find out very much about defendants' cases outside of the city. The more we can expand into other courts the better we’ll be. Now we can do summonses in other counties, which is great. I think eventually the goal would be to have all computers, no paper. But it’s expensive, so you just have to slowly work in the computers and technology.