Chief Judge DiFiore, Senate and Assembly Judiciary Chairs Propose Constitutional Amendment for Court Reform and Simplification
Bills to achieve long-overdue reform of the state’s overly complicated court structure by merging the 11 trial courts were announced today by New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) and Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Charles D. Lavine (D-Glen Cove).
This would bring New York into line with other states, many of which have only one or two trial courts. If enacted, the bills would enhance access to justice for low-income, non-white and long-marginalized communities.
“Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s bold plan to merge and modernize New York’s courts has the unequivocal support of the New York State Bar Association. For more than four decades, the New York Bar has advocated for simplifying New York’s convoluted system of courts, which are exceedingly inefficient, inordinately complex, and extremely costly,” New York State Bar Association President T. Andrew Brown said when the proposal was first released. “We cannot delay this vitally important initiative if we want to achieve our most cherished ideals – securing public confidence in our judicial system and ensuring access to justice.”
The new structure would save millions in legal costs for low-income litigants, provide a better platform for the advancement and promotion of judges, and allow greater flexibility for judges to be assigned where needed. The proposal consolidates New York’s major trial courts into the state Supreme Court, consolidates the trial courts of lesser jurisdiction (not including the Justice Courts) into a new statewide Municipal Court and permits the Legislature, once every ten years, to adjust the number and boundaries of the appellate Judicial Departments.
Under the current structure, a woman seeking divorce in a criminally abusive relationship might need to travel to three separate courts – even hiring three separate attorneys – to deal with criminal charges, custody issues and divorce proceedings.
“New York State’s trial court structure remains one of the most antiquated and convoluted in the country–a system with 11 different trial courts that has not been updated in decades,” DiFiore said. “While unintentional, the state’s obsolete trial court structure has created barriers to justice that disparately impact our most vulnerable New Yorkers. We must modernize our outdated trial court structure in remedying these inequities and transforming our court system into a model of efficiency. I am thankful to Chairs Hoylman and Lavine for their leadership on this vital issue and look forward to working with them in our ongoing efforts to secure passage of a constitutional amendment to simplify the state’s trial court structure.”
The reforms would require an amendment to the state Constitution. For that to happen, both houses of the State Legislature must approve the measure for two consecutive sessions. Then it is put before the voters as a referendum.