At least 2,378 misdemeanor cases in the Bronx have been pending for over a year, and 538 have been pending for over two—and these extreme delays are violating defendants' constitutional rights to a speedy trial and due process, a new lawsuit (PDF) filed against the New York State Unified Court System and Governor Cuomo alleges.

The state's speedy trial statute requires that prosecutors be ready to go to trial within 90 days of arraignment for Class A misdemeanors, 60 days for Class B misdemeanors, and 30 days for non-criminal violations, but thousands of Bronx residents are waiting for far longer, this suit claims, and those whose cases do go to trial wind up waiting an average of 642 days for a non-jury trial and 827 days for a jury trial. In 2013—the last time data on court delays citywide was publicly available—the Bronx had more misdemeanor cases for over a year than the other boroughs combined.

The lawsuit, which is seeking class-action status, describes hundreds of people waiting for hours each day in Bronx criminal courts, missing school and work for the briefest of appearances before a judge, before being told to return at a later date. In the cases described in the suit, individuals waited upwards of 1,000 days, with as many as 38 court dates each, before their cases were adjourned.

Take, for example, Sarah Bello, a 40-year-old single mother of four who, in 2012, was charged with misdemeanor assault after getting into a dispute with an acquaintance over payment for a used car. She had 33 court dates over 1,166 days, during 12 of which the prosecution wasn't ready for trial, according to the suit. During that time, she allegedly lost her job working as a home health aide, because the New Jersey Board of Nursing couldn't process her application to renew her employment license while her case was open; her application for legal permanent residency in the United States was denied as a result of the open case, the suit states. In November 2015, the charges against Bello were dismissed, and only then was she able to get her license reinstated, after months of unemployment.

Then there was plaintiff Michael Torres, 43, who the suit says was illegally stopped and frisked while on his way to a job interview in 2011. The officer who searched him recovered a small amount of marijuana from his sweatshirt, and Torres was charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. It was two and a half years and 14 court dates before his case was dismissed, and during that time Torres was fired as a result of taking off too many days to appear in court, according to the suit. When the case was eventually thrown out, it was allegedly because the officer who arrested Torres testified that he had no recollection of the incident.

"After waiting all that time, I wasn't even able to have my day in court," Torres said. "I did everything I was supposed to do, but the system failed me."

The complaint describes a number of similar cases, and argues that they are not exceptions, but rather the rule when it comes to Bronx criminal courts. And the defendants—Cuomo, Chief Judicial Officer of the Unified Court System Janet DiFiore, and Chief Administrative Judge of the Unified Court System Lawrence Marks—have been aware of the court's delays for a long time now, the suit alleges, noting that as far back as 2009, they publicly acknowledged the need to expand the borough's trial capacity.

In 2013, the New York Times published a three-part investigation into the Bronx court system, finding, among many things, that on just one day that March, over half of the courthouse's courtrooms were closed or idle for most of the day; a prosecutor went on vacation in the middle of a trial; and, because it was his birthday, a defense attorney postponed court. Trials were repeatedly postponed because there weren't enough judges, and everyone—from prosecutors to translators and jurors—was running persistently late. But despite these publicized failings and their own acknowledgment of the extreme delays, Cuomo, DiFiore, and Marks have failed to take any actions that actually remedied the situation, this lawsuit alleges.

The suit was filed today by the legal advocacy group The Bronx Defenders, along with the law firms Morrison & Foerster LLP and Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP. In a statement, Ruti Smithline, an attorney at Morrison & Foerster, said that "those affected by the epidemic of delay in the Bronx have to return to court dozens of times to resolve their cases. That means missing work, lining up childcare, and scheduling their whole lives around these pending cases, which can and do go on for years. Our hope is that this lawsuit fixes a system that is clearly broken."

The plaintiffs aren't seeking damages, but rather reforms, the Times reports, such as a ruling that defendants don't have to appear for every court hearing; an increase in the number of judges and court staff in the Bronx; and the addition of more flexible appearance times, such as evening hours.

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the New York State Unified Court System, said that "While I cannot comment on the merits of the lawsuit, the issue of case backlogs and delays in the state’s courts—particularly the Bronx—are an absolute top priority and from her first day, have been directly addressed by the new Chief Judge in her Excellence Initiative. [DiFiore] and senior court administrators are actively engaged in working on resolving the problem to the expectations and standards that we expect from our state court system."