Special Commission on The Future of the New York State Courts

Message from the Chair

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Restructuring Proposal

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Message from the Chair

Welcome to the web site of the Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts. We hope that this web site will serve as a resource for persons and organizations interested in improving the quality of justice throughout New York State.

In July 2006, former Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye appointed the Special Commission to assess the need for structural and other operational reforms of the Judiciary.

  Carey R. Dunne
Carey R. Dunne
Chair, Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts

In February 2007, after seven months of intensive study, the Commission published a 175-page report detailing its findings and recommendations for reform (PDF). Specifically, the Commission proposed a consolidation of the state's eleven major trial courts into a streamlined, two-tier structure, and the creation of a Fifth Judicial Department to ease our state's appellate burden. The Commission concluded that these reforms would greatly improve the administration of justice and save litigants, the state, and the economy over $500 million per year. Chief Judge Kaye endorsed the Commission's findings in her State of the Judiciary Address (PDF) and then Governor Eliot Spitzer proposed a constitutional amendment (proposal, press release) to restructure the state's court system that includes nearly all of the elements proposed by the Commission.

While the Commission's review was focused on the state-paid court system, the Commission also concluded that the Town and Village Justice Courts - a system of nearly 1,300 local courts statewide that hear millions of cases ranging traffic infractions to serious criminal matters - raise unique and complex issues requiring further study. Questions have been publicly raised as to whether the Justice Courts are appropriately structured and funded, and local Justices adequately trained, to effectively protect litigant rights. Accordingly, the Commission proposed and the Chief Judge agreed that the Commission's term be extended so that it could devote appropriate time and effort to studying this important topic. The Commission added several Justice Court judges to its ranks and turned its full attention to this issue.

Over the summer and fall of 2007, the Commission conducted four public hearings and visited town and village courts throughout the state to gather information on the local justice system from a wide range of perspectives. We approached our work with a fresh perspective, and formed our own conclusions independent of what has been written or said about this topic in the past. In September 2008, the Commission delivered to Chief Judge Kaye a nearly 300-page report detailing its findings and proposed reforms for the Justice Courts (PDF). In this second report, the Commission identified four broad categories of findings:  those concerning the organization of the Justice Courts; the qualifications of the Justices; the courts' facilities and resources; and the role of fines and funding in the courts. In addition, it advanced specific proposals for reform, accompanied by model legislation that could be used to implement these proposals.

Please take the time to explore the resources provided on this web site and to consider ways to share your views on this important topic.