“We are long overdue to amend our State Constitution to create a streamlined trial court system, a structure organized in a manner that most effectively and efficiently addresses the modern-day justice needs of New Yorkers. I am heartened by the strong support for court consolidation from so many organizations and individuals across the State. . . I look forward, as we work with the Legislature and Governor, to the passage of these important constitutional reforms, which can then be presented to the voters on the 2021 ballot for their approval.”
“Having taken form in the middle of the last century, New York’s byzantine trial court structure is today ill-suited to meet the needs of a modern court system. Its multiplicity of courts, along with their jurisdictional and procedural diversity, pose major challenges to all those who look to our justice system to resolve their legal disputes, particularly New York’s unrepresented litigants. These proposed constitutional amendments will lead to critically-needed changes in our State Constitution that will make New York’s courts more user-friendly and improve the quality of justice statewide.”
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, the Chief Judge’s 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.