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Court Restructuring

The City Bar believes that the state’s major trial courts should be consolidated into either one tier comprising all of the state’s courts of record or a two-tier structure consisting of (1) Supreme Court with specialized divisions, and (2) a District Court with jurisdiction over misdemeanor cases, housing cases, and civil cases involving less than $50,000. This consolidation would eliminate confusion and waste and would create a much more nimble, efficient and user-friendly system. We urge the Legislature to pass legislation to this effect proposed by the Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts.

We understand that the Special Commission’s consolidation approach would not affect how judges are selected. However, we are aware that there have been consolidation proposals that would reduce the number of New York judges currently chosen by appointment. As the City Bar supports the use of a commission-based appointment system for selecting judges for all courts of record, we oppose changes that would shift the balance toward having more elected versus appointed judges. We would not want to see a court consolidation that results in a system even more dependent upon judicial elections than in the current system.

The City Bar supports eliminating the present constitutional limit of one justice of the Supreme Court for every 50,000 people in a judicial district. The current number is inadequate to cope with the Court’s caseload, and has necessitated stopgap measures such as the assignment of Acting Supreme Court Justices. The number of Supreme Court judgeships should not be fixed in the constitution, to allow for the provision of enough justices to adequately handle the workload as it evolves. Moreover, the City Bar advocates elevating to constitutional judicial status, within the District Court, judges who preside in the Housing Courts of the City of New York.