Time to simplify our ‘cumbersome’ courts?

Coalition aims to change NY Constitution

By Ryan Thompson

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

NEW YORK — It is a serious maneuver, but one state bar leaders say is necessary — to alter the state constitution in order to change our “cumbersome” courts.

The New York State Bar Association is urging lawmakers to begin the process of amending the state constitution to simplify and reorganize the state court system, one of the most complex and cumbersome in the nation, it says.

Under the current system, for instance, a contested divorce involving children might fall under the jurisdictions of three separate courts: Supreme Court to deal with marital separation and financial matters, Family Court to deal with child custody issues and County Court to deal with domestic violence and orders of protection.

In Brooklyn, the marital separation would be handled in Kings County Supreme Court Civil Term, and the domestic violence case would be handled in either Kings County Supreme Court Criminal Term (for felonies) or Brooklyn Criminal Court (for misdemeanors).

In addition to those three aforementioned Brooklyn courts, there is the Kings County Civil Court, which includes Small Claims Court and the extremely busy Housing Court, and its appellate court, the Appellate Term. There is also the Brooklyn Family Court, and the smaller community courts like the Red Hook Community Justice Center.

One of the four state Appellate Divisions is also located in Brooklyn. The Appellate Division Second Department sits on Monroe Place in Brooklyn Heights. And there are two federal courthouses in Downtown Brooklyn, as well. But neither the state appellate court nor the federal courts would be subject to the proposed streamlining.   

"The existing court structure no longer adequately serves the citizens of New York," said Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III. "The labyrinth of overlapping jurisdictions of multiple courts creates unnecessary financial burdens and delays for millions of litigants. It needs to be changed."

In keeping with the Bar Association's 2012 legislative priorities, the Bar Association has joined with the Coalition for Court Simplification — an organization of about 50 state business leaders, good government groups, legal organizations and citizen advocates — in seeking these long-overdue reforms.

The Bar Association and the coalition are calling for a constitutional amendment that would replace the existing system with a simplified two-tiered state trial court structure, which would enhance the public's understanding of the system and allow all aspects of a matter to be heard in a single court.

This multi-court approach places an undue burden on the parties involved, adding costs and unnecessary delays, the Bar Association says.

The coalition says revamping the court system could save taxpayers $121 million a year, as well as save litigants about $433 million annually in attorney's fees, court filing fees, lost wages and other related costs.

It is co-chaired by former Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger and Fern Schair of Fordham Law School.

Amending the state constitution requires approval by the state Senate and Assembly, and a statewide referendum.

May 30, 2012 - 1:34pm



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