Secretary Johnson’s Equal Justice Report identified many areas of concern for us. Among the most damning was his finding that the conditions in our “under-resourced” and “over-burdened” high-volume housing, family, and criminal courts have a dehumanizing effect on the predominantly low-income and minority litigants who appear there, creating the terrible perception — and I fear, in many cases, the reality — that there is a second-class system of justice for people of color in this state.
Key Elements of the Simplification Proposal:
- Consolidation of New York’s 11 different trial courts into a simple three-level structure consisting of a Supreme Court, a Municipal Court, and Justice Courts serving New York’s towns and villages.
- Abolition of the Court of Claims, the County Courts (which operate outside New York City), the Family Courts and the Surrogate’s Courts, and merger of their judges and jurisdiction into the current Supreme Court. More than eliminating a confusing array of courts, this merged Supreme Court will lead to greater diversity on both the Supreme Court and the Appellate Division bench.
- Creation within the merged Supreme Court of six divisions: Family; Probate; Criminal; State Claims; Commercial; and General.
- Abolition of New York City’s Civil and Criminal Courts, Long Island’s District Courts, and the 61 City Courts outside New York City, along with merger of their judges and jurisdiction into a new Municipal Court in those jurisdictions.
- Designation of New York City’s Housing Court Judges as Municipal Court Judges, to be appointed by the Mayor to ten-year terms.
- Preservation of the current means of selection and terms of office for all judges of courts abolished and merged into Supreme Court and Municipal Court, respectively (merger-in-place).
- Elimination of the century-old constitutional cap (of one judge per 50,000 residents in a Judicial District) on the number of Supreme Court judgeships that can be established by the Legislature.
- Authorizing the Legislature to change the number of Appellate Division Departments once every ten years to best meet New York’s appellate justice needs.
- Provision for a five-year phase-in period to allow for any statutory, regulatory, administrative or other changes that would be needed to accommodate the new organizational structure.
- To take effect, a proposal must be passed by the Legislature during its 2020 session, passed again during its 2021 session, and then approved by the State’s voters at the November 2021 general election.