Monday, February 7, 2011

The Unique New York State Justice Courts

I practice in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. It is a beautiful part of the country. I feel fortunate to have had opportunities to experience different Courts in all the smaller towns, villages, and cities. NYS is unique in that we still have these little local Courts which handle a wide array of matters including criminal misdemeanors.

Chief Judge Kaye said, “The Justice Courts are New York’s oldest tribunals, dating back centuries, and today continue to serve a critical role in the state’s justice system, handling more than two million cases each year and collecting more than $210 million in fees annually.”

There are 1300 Justice Courts throughout New York State. 2,100 plus Town and Village Justices serve in these Courts and over 2/3 of the Justices (Judges) are not lawyers. The Judges are elected to four-year terms, practice part time, and do not do it for the money. These are very committed individuals who seek in many instances to do the right thing and to serve their communities.

These Courts have come a long way over the years. Now there are electronic recording devices in most of these Courts. The Judges go through a training and education program specific to their Court duties.

This comes from the NYS Courts Judicial Website:

Changes to the training of new non-attorney Justices are particularly dramatic. In contrast to the single week of instruction prior to the Action Plan (2006), newly elected non-attorney Justices now receive seven weeks of pre-bench training, consisting of alternating periods of at-home assign- ments (a total of five weeks) and classroom training (a total of two weeks). Significant time is spent devoted to the most sensitive decisions facing a new Justice, such the right to counsel and determining bail. Instruction is provided initially by lecture for many topics, but is followed by mock proceedings where the Justices actually have to make difficult decisions based on “real” facts. The new Justices also receive two days of training after they have been on the bench for two to three months. New Justices report that these sessions at such an early point in their career on the bench have been particularly helpful.

This system is unlike the majority of Court systems in any of the other states. I think being familiar with these Courts, the people in them, and how they are conducted is even more important in the upstate New York area because of these differences.