Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Mai Yee, Assistant Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: Nov 21, 2006

Seal of the Unified Court System
www.nycourts.gov

Sweeping Reforms of New York’s
Local Justice Courts Unveiled
Town and Village Courts to Receive Enhanced Support and Assistance of State Judiciary to Ensure High-Quality Justice Throughout New York State

NEW YORK - Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman today announced an Action Plan for the Justice Courts, a comprehensive program to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the nearly 1,300 justice courts located in most of New York’s towns and villages. The Action Plan follows a top-to-bottom review of local town and village justice courts initiated last June by the State Office of Court Administration (OCA).

“Of the six million new cases filed annually in New York’s courts, two million alone are initiated or adjudicated in the justice courts,” said Chief Judge Kaye. “New Yorkers rely heavily on our local courts to resolve hundreds of thousands of civil and criminal cases a year. These courts must provide the same high standard of justice the public expects and deserves from any court in New York. The judges and personnel must be highly trained and knowledgeable, the litigants fairly treated, technology used to full advantage, and all court personnel and users secure in the courthouse. With the comprehensive steps laid out within this Action Plan, we take affirmative steps to ensure that the justice courts meet these goals and will have the support and resources necessary to deliver the same high level of justice for which the State-funded courts within New York’s Unified Court System are known.”

Chief Administrative Judge Lippman stated, “Our present-day town and village courts trace back to New York’s first tribunals and have been an integral part of New York’s justice system for nearly three centuries. This Action Plan, based on a thorough review of the justice court system and developed with the assistance of an advisory group that includes sitting town and village justices, strikes the proper balance between providing the support needed to achieve effective and efficient delivery of court services and respecting the unique structure of these local tribunals as established by the State Constitution. This new initiative marks the beginning of a historic modern-day partnership between the local justice courts and the State Judiciary.”

The Action Plan for Justice Courts focuses primarily on ways to improve the effectiveness of justice courts within their existing legal framework, although some reforms will require legislation. The State Judiciary will include $10 million in its 2007–08 budget request to support the initiatives. Highlights of the specific steps OCA will take to assist justice courts in the areas of court operations, auditing and financial control, court security, and education and training are outlined below:

Justice Court Operations and Administration
∙ Equip justice courts with essential technology and equipment, including computers, case management software, printers and credit card machines, and integrate justice courts into the State Judiciary’s email and database systems
∙ Mandate recording of justice court proceedings, and provide every justice court with a recording machine
∙ Ensure that indigent criminal defendants are assigned counsel at the earliest possible time, and better coordinate justice court scheduling
∙ Appoint Supervising Judges in every judicial district that has justice courts, to coordinate resources and troubleshoot problems

Auditing and Financial Control
∙ Require that justice courts transmit their monthly revenue reports to the State Comptroller electronically
∙ With the State Comptroller’s Office, develop financial control best practices for the justice courts
∙ Require local governments to submit to the Office of Court Administration copies of their annual justice court audits, and expand State auditing of justice court fiscal operations

Education and Training
∙ Increase current “basic” training for new non-attorney justices from one week to seven weeks of in-class and at-home training
∙ Revitalize continuing legal training for judges, by establishing dual-track programs geared to judges’ level of experience, increasing remote training and expanding simulations and other forms of “active” training
∙ Establish a Justice Court Institute, a year-round, centrally located training center for judges and court clerks
∙ Create teams of legal, financial, technical and operational experts to provide on-site, hands-on training for new judges

Facility Security and Public Protection
∙ Conduct a professional security assessment of every justice court facility
∙ Issue best security practices for justice courts
∙ Increase annual funding of the Justice Court Assistance Program to $5 million (from the current $1 million) and allow localities to apply for capital grants to upgrade justice court security

Town and village justice courts are part of the Unified Court System, but they are funded and administered by the localities, rather than the State. Therefore, they operate without the oversight of the New York State Judiciary and Office of Court Administration, which supervises the operation and administration of all state-paid trial courts. The justice courts are quite diverse, ranging from courts that hear cases every day to those that convene one to two times a month. Additionally, the State Constitution does not require local town and village court justices to be lawyers; of the nearly 2,000 justices sitting presently, 72 percent are not members of the bar. State and local budgets rely heavily on justice courts: during the last fiscal year alone, the justice courts collected over $210 million in fines, fees and surcharges.

The Unified Court System’s Action Plan for the Justice Courts is available online at
www.nycourts.gov/publications.

Web page updated: November 21, 2006