QUEENS FOR A DAY- Mandatory Case Conferencing in Queens Criminal Court
What exactly goes on behind the closed doors in Queens Criminal Court? In Queens, some of the courts have given over some control of when cases get called to the Queens County District Attorney’s office. In the busy courtrooms that hear unindicted felony cases, the court will not call the case until the District Attorney’s Office has sent a note to the court advising that the criminal defense lawyer has “conferenced” the case with the Queens District Attorney’s office. The policy seems to be to encourage the parties to discuss the cases, to engage in plea bargaining and to allow the criminal defense attorneys to learn what the “offer” is on the case, and discuss the offer with his client, before the case is called.
There is something unseemly, however, about the court giving the Queens District Attorney’s office the gatekeeping function of getting a case called in the courtroom. The rooms in which the cases are “conferenced” are not suitable places for a calm and reasoned give and take about the merits of a case- instead, it is an assembly line, with the best criminal defense attorneys lined up out the door to conduct these “conferences”. The assistant district attorney who is assigned to the case is almost never in the room herself, so there is seldom meaningful discussion about the case.
A better practice would be for the assistant district attorneys to be required to call or email the Queens criminal defense lawyers, to discuss the cases. In some cases I have in Queens, I just know my client is not pleading guilty to anything- there is no reason to require me and my client, under such circumstances, to go thru the façade of a case conference. If I have something important to say to the assigned assistant district attorney, other than “let’s go to trial”, I can pick up a phone. Otherwise, the courts should let a well-respected criminal defense lawyer enter the courtroom with his client, and call his case, without a mandatory, and fruitless, “conference”.
So if in Queens Criminal Court you see a line of criminal attorneys outside a tiny office on the ground floor, tapping their feet, checking their watches, and rolling their eyes, now you know why.