I had a chance to bring up New York State court reform a few weeks back, while in Albany on an unrelated lobbying trip. Got a chance to talk to state lawmakers of both parties about court reform in New York State. Very relevant since as a transnational corporation, my company frequently litigates in New York State courts, a truly byzantine system.
New York courts are dysfunctional on MANY levels. They are very much subject to “machine” political appointments. They are haphazardly laid out, with 11 different trial courts, most with overlapping jurisdiction. A state Supreme Court that is NOT the “supreme” court, but rather both a court of general jurisdiction and an intermediate appellate court. A system of town and village justice courts that truly embody the worst of what a judiciary can be.
To their credit, the New York Legislature is finally seriously confronting this longstanding problem.
Some proposed ideas are better than others, but none goes near far enough.
The ONLY adequate solution is to “blow it up and start over from scratch.” That is, the Legislature needs to propose a Constitutional Amendment completely repealing the current section of the State Constitution dealing with the Judiciary and to replace it with an entirely new section. The courts of New York State need to be abolished from the very top to the very bottom and replaced with brand new courts.
My proposed reform replaces the current system with a four court system, similar to the Federal System and the system used by the State of Florida, both systems considered to be efficient and well designed.
The Supreme Court would have discretionary appellate jurisdiction from the Courts of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals would be a standard intermediate appellate court with mandatory appellate jurisdiction from the Superior Courts and discretionary appellate jurisdiction from the County Courts.
The Superior Court would be the court of general jurisdiction, handling large scale civil cases, felony crimes and large civil violations, as well as most family law. It would also have expedited appellate jurisdiction over the County Court.
The County Court would be small claims, misdemeanor crimes, small civil violations and uncontested divorces.
Very simple, very easy. I have even laid out the simple language below needed to set it up.
Section 6.01. Judicial Power. The judicial power of the State shall be vested in a unified judicial system, which shall include a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, a Superior Court and a County Court. All courts except the Supreme Court may be divided into geographical departments or districts as provided by law and into functional divisions and subdivisions as provided by law or by judicial rules not inconsistent with law, but each county in the State shall comprise a County Court district.
Section 6.02. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court shall be the highest court of the State and shall consist of a Chief Justice and six Associate Justices. The Supreme Court shall solely sit en banc when hearing cases. The Supreme Court shall have discretionary jurisdiction from the Court of Appeals, which shall be exercised by Writ of Certiorari. The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction to consider and decide all questions certified to them by the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court shall have original, exclusive and final jurisdiction of certain cases defined elsewhere in this Constitution.
Section 6.03. Court of Appeals. Each division of the Court of Appeals shall consist of a Chief Judge and such number of Associate Judges as the General Assembly may by law establish. The Court of Appeals shall sit in three Judge panels for the purpose of considering appeals, but, by majority vote of the Judges of a division, the Court of Appeals may rehear a case en banc. The Court of Appeals shall have mandatory appellate jurisdiction of all cases arising in the Superior Court and discretionary appellate jurisdiction of all cases arising in the County Court, such jurisdiction to be exercised by Writ of Certiorari, however, review of cases arising in the County Court shall not be granted, until the Superior Court has completed appellate review of such cases.
Section 6.04. Superior Court. Each division of the Superior Court shall include one or more County Court districts and shall consist of a Chief Judge and such number of Associate Judges as the General Assembly may by law establish. The Superior Court shall have original jurisdiction of all cases in law and equity arising under the Constitution of the United States and the laws and Constitution of the State of New York, excepting such original jurisdiction as shall be vested in the County Courts or the Supreme Court. The Superior Court shall have mandatory appellate jurisdiction of all cases arising in the County Court, such appellate jurisdiction to be exercised by a single judge panel.
Section 6.05. County Court. Each division of the County Court shall consist of a Chief Judge and such number of Associate Judges as the General Assembly may by law establish. The County Court shall have jurisdiction of misdemeanor criminal offenses and all civil violations, except such violations where the potential fine exceeds twenty thousand dollars. The County Court shall have jurisdiction of civil suits at law and equity, where the amount in question does not exceed twenty thousand dollars. The County Court shall have jurisdiction of uncontested dissolution of marriage cases where there are no minor children, but all other cases of family law shall cognizable by the Superior Court.
Section 6.06. Chief Judges. The Chief Justice or Chief Judge of any court in the State shall be the Justice or Judge, in active status, who shall be the most senior in commission, but shall not have attained to the age of seventy years. On any court in the State, when there is no Justice or Judge who has not attained to the age of seventy years, the Chief Justice or Judge shall be the Justice or Judge least senior in age. Any Justice or Judge may decline to serve as Chief Justice or Judge or may terminate such service prior to attaining the age of seventy years.
Section 6.07. Senior Justices & Judges. Senior Justices and Judges shall be eligible to participate in all proceedings of the court to which they have elected assignment in senior status, including participating in en banc proceedings. Senior Justices and Judges may determine which general categories of cases and controversies they will accept for assignment to their docket.