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Thursday, November 23, 2006

Law - An upshot of the NY Times series on Justice-of-the-Peace-type courts in NY State

Recall the three-part NY Times series this summer on New York State's local court system? Here is a NYT quote from this Sept. 27th ILB entry:

Although they are key institutions of justice in more than 1,000 small towns and suburbs across New York, trying misdemeanor cases and lawsuits, a vast majority of the justices who run them are not lawyers, and receive only a few days’ legal training. The justices are often elected in low-turnout races, keep few records and operate largely without supervision — leaving a long trail of injustices and mangled rulings.
Yesterday the NYT ran this story by William Glaberson headed "Plan to Revamp N.Y. Justice Courts Is Announced." It begins:
ALBANY, Nov. 21 —New York’s top judicial officials outlined a plan today to begin revamping the state’s 300-year old system of town and village courts, which have been criticized for decades as outmoded, unsupervised and unfair.

The plan, announced here by the state’s chief judge, Judith S. Kaye, included some measures that critics of the courts have been recommending for years. Among them is a plan to require that the local courts — known as justice courts — begin keeping a word-for-word record of their proceedings, as every other court in the state does.

The justice courts are a sprawling system of more than 1,200 courts that are often the first — and frequently the only — stop in the legal system for cases outside New York City. Dating from Colonial times, the courts occupy something of a time warp, with justices who are often poorly trained, who may hold hearings in firehouses, town highway garages or their own kitchens, and who dispense a form of justice unlike any other in the state.

The judiciary’s plan also outlined steps to increase training for the justices, to overhaul their testing, and to provide the courts with computers, which many now lack. The officials said they would begin a new program to monitor compliance with constitutional guarantees of the right to legal counsel, to require annual audits of each justice court’s books, and to increase the court system’s supervision of the courts.

“These courts must provide the same high standard of justice the public expects and deserves from any court in New York,” Judge Kaye said.

But the judiciary’s plan stopped short of dealing with many aspects of the justice court system that attracted complaints — those that critics say leave the state with two justice systems, a modern one for the state’s cities and a second, much less sophisticated one for suburban and rural areas. The State Assembly is to begin a broad examination of the justice court system in a hearing next month.

The judiciary plan would not, for example, require that justices in the town and village local courts be lawyers, as they must be in every other court in New York. Three-quarters of the town and village justices are not lawyers; some are sewer workers, plumbers or farmers. That, the officials said in a report accompanying today’s announcement, is “among the great challenges in New York governance.”

The court system’s plan also would not change the fact that the courts are part-time, often conduct business in small, out-of-the-way spaces, and, uniquely in the state court system, are financed by towns and villages instead of the state court budget.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 23, 2006 10:15 AM
Posted to Courts in general