Reform of New York’s Courts Stalls

Even a seemingly modest compromise bill in Albany to revamp the state’s network of tiny courts is failing.

Comments: 68

  1. While I was in law school in Ithaca, I remember going to one court in a church, encountering a 'justice' who was not a lawyer, and all sorts of shenanigans. Growing up in Brooklyn, I had no idea it was the Wild West upstate. Didn't help my perception of the world north of Westchester - and I've never been back.

  2. Hah! No surprise. Time to realize that New York state is a very diverse place, including vast tracts of outback that's like Alabama with snow. I've seen Confederate flags 20 miles from the Canadian border. The US government labels some Southern Tier counties part of Appalachia so they can benefit from federal anti-poverty programs. A few years ago I got a speeding ticket on Rte. 17 that costs $90 if you appear at court a few weeks later. But if you're a visitor and mail it in from elsewhere, it's closer to $400! Talk about a Macon County Line experience.

  3. No one gives up power willingly,that is the crux of the situation . Unless there is a situation like Sen. Dodd's . To borrow Charlton Heston's phrasing " No one is getting my power unless they can pry it from my cold dead hands" Maybe this type of fractured court system is the reason some RIGHT thinking people don't want terrorists tried in our civilian legal system.

  4. I knew the oft-referred to "refrigerator repairman" he served as a Town Justice for decades. He was a decent man, a successful businessman, a veteran, and most importantly, respected by his community. For the vast majority of cases, his common sense and training proved more than adequate to mete out appropriate sentences. Without lawyers, he provided justice at its grassroots. Certainly, there need to be some limitations and oversight on what town justices do. However, lawyers are not the answer. The legal profession, by its very adverserial nature, is more concerned with winning than justice. Any lawyer who says otherwise is less than honest. The procedural delays and appeals deny the community the timely justice that it is entitled to.

  5. Could the current non-lawyer justices be grandfathered in, while new justices are required to have law degrees?

  6. this just proves that nothing, absolutely nothing can or ever will get accomplished in ALbany. One would think that the concept of not providing someone the basic due process that we all learn about in school, and which has always been a bedrock of this country would casue action in Albany, but apparantly not. It is clear that from the governor on down to the entire legislative branch walk around as eunuchs, unbable to do anything useful, except of course line their pockets with taxpayer money.

  7. Albany is beyond pathetic.

  8. Interesting that New York still uses a system abandoned by Nebraska forty or more years ago.

  9. But there's never any of the misconduct described in this article by judges who are lawyers, right? Ludicrous.

    Exercise the kind of supervision/review of judicial decisions that all judges should be subject to and whether the judge is a lawyer or not becomes a non-issue. This is more another self-preservation move by lawyers than anything else.

  10. The wild west? Give me a break! Most of our justices are not attorneys, but I wouldn't call that "shenanigans." I call that a good system. I know several people who serve as justices in their communities and they are nothing more than citizens who have shown the dedication to serve their neighbors in the best manner they feel they can.
    The downstate contingent needs to understand the communities up here a little better before passing any other kind of judgment on our ways. Why is a Manhattan Democrat so interested in what happens upstate town courts anyway? And why is a former Brooklyn resident who spent a brief time in Ithaca so interested to comment?
    How many of the justices themselves have been a part of the effort to look at the system?
    Are the problem issues that had been noted in 2006 still going on? Are those judges even still in office? Or have they retired, or perhaps passed on? (I know for a fact one of the issues in those stories happened in the early 1990s - no excuse for the behavior, but the judge was disciplined by the system and is now deceased).
    There is a disciplinary system to oversee the justices, and it works.
    Jinni, you're missing some beautiful country and wonderful people if you've never been back to the "Wild West." What a shame that you're so small-minded - just what we don't need behind our bench, reviewing traffic tickets and the like!

  11. Correct me if I am wrong. You do not need to be a lawyer to be a Supreme Court Judge. So why are we so worried about traffic tickets. This country was not set up so we could be governed by lawyers. Virtually all our judges are lawyers. Virtually all our politicians are lawyers. We want more lawyers?? I don't think so.

  12. I represented clients in upstate New York 25 years ago and this was a major problem. The system was filled with one big political/fraternal party. There was no process nor were judges aware of the law. You had to argue based upon connections and street logic. Big decisions were being made with no supervision. I thought that it was a basic violation of constitutional rights. The same legislature that benefits from the lack of accountability is in charge of fixing -- that is the joke. This is a real shame.

    Jinni -- I think I have been to that court as well. What a circus.

  13. New York sounds like Iraq, Afghanistan or any number of corrupt third world countries.

  14. Those who Drafted the United States Constitution were not lawyers.
    They were Individuals who possessed common sense
    which is all to uncommon in recent history.
    The addition of lawyers as advocated by this article seems only as a "Make Work" project for lawyers.
    Common Sense is what we need more of ,Not people whose only claim to fame is that they have a degree to practice law.

    The cost of hiring only lawyers is problematic as well.
    If they are capable enough certainly they would stay in Private practice were they could make more money and Not have to worry about re-election campaigns.
    Or shall they be allowed to control the bench and have a private practice ?
    Certainly that is an untenable solution as conflict of interest issues would abound in almost all areas of New York State.
    Even NYC has problems of a similar nature and its massive size would seem to suggest that these conflicts and issues would be handled swiftly and easily ,yet history tells another tale.

    This NYT article extrapolates that All are suspect unless they are lawyers.
    Leave lawyers to fend for themselves ,do not burden the taxpayers with them.

  15. It is the same with San Diego and California courts too, they are mafia run corrupt satanic demons. These courts throughout America have lawless fixes in to suit the powers that be, like Ancient Rome. Where lawless exists no financial prosperity will grow. That is why, do not believe the hype and the news media about the economy rebounding this rotten to the core mafia run America is about to experience ARMAGEDDON with nuclear missiles.

    It is time to bounce into survival mode because it is going to get, "Even worse."

  16. Absolute power corrupts absolutely!

  17. Long gone are the days of Mr Smith going to Albany. Another travesty of our state government is laid bare...and our state senators and representatives keep getting re-elected even after the debacle of 2009! Perhaps this explains why and how.

  18. A similar type of insanity occurs in the big city also. NYC Environmental Control Board hearings are presided over by Administrative Law Judges who, regardless of whether or not they have passed a bar exam, have absolutely no familiarity with most of the codes they are passing judgement about. Given the technical complexities of such codes, it is impossible for them to "get up to speed" within the time period of a hearing. The consequences are obvious.

    I think that what's missing in both small town courts and the NYC ECB is not so much the lack of judges who are admitted to the bar, but the lack of judges who can otherwise demonstrate adequate understanding of the laws they are administering, and who are subject to greater oversight than the current system apparently provides for.

  19. It was the mid 70's, I got stopped by a cop on the Taconic Pkwy somewhere south of Albany for speeding. He said I could pay the fine at the constable's office and took me to a house, we knocked and went in like expected guests. The constable was having dinner, we sat at the table and talked about the Yankees problems. Then I paid my fine and said goodnight.

    It was the nicest court experience I ever had.

  20. Where are all the fancy-schmancy NYC lawyers basking in glory while the rest of the state is so primitive. Maybe they think NYC has already been declared the 51st state.

  21. The cesspool in Albany should be sidestepped. Instead of reforming the system by state legislation, a civil liberties organization should find a victim of a particularly kangaroo-court-like proceeding, and sue the state in federal court for violating his or her constitutional due process rights.

  22. The Times' series in 2006 showed that the justice courts were a travesty. It appears that politics prevail over common sense, let alone the protection of constitutional rights. The petty despots upstate want to preserve their fiefdoms from scrutiny and criticism, both well deserved. The only protection for the people of New York (I'm a native) is to abolish the justice courts whether the faux-justices like it or not.

  23. What, exactly, was your "perception" of the world north of Westchester? Toothless hillbillies? Please. You're a lawyer, you're supposed to have an open mind. There are shenanigans going on all over the place, but I suppose LA is immune to all that. Stay in sunny California, Jinni, and keep that attitude...northern NY is doing just fine without snobs like you.

  24. Our local justices make a mockery of the courts. Most often they are former state police and they take the side of their former colleagues even when the police make grave mistakes. I have also witnessed justices acting as both justice and prosecutor when the local prosecutors are no-show in court! It's so corrupt that there's no way to fairly call it "justice" and it is supported by local officials who are nothing more than cronies to the justices. It's a shame that we live in a state where we don't seem to be able to throw the bums out.

  25. Becoming a Town Justice is an element of political patronage. The political parties, both of them, fear that the elimination of such rewards for their faithful helper will result in the loss of seats in the legislature. Perhaps we could consider allowing non physicians work in specially set up health care centers. They could administer medicine to the citizens of their counties with the same efficacy that non lawyers can be judges and justices in the small courts.

    On the other hand, let the citizens of the small population counties of the State of New York continue to get cheated and abused by the system. Their votes don't count do they?

  26. Here's a couple of things to consider: 1.)Judges at county level or higher in NY haven't had a pay raise in 10 years, 2.) A training program for non-attorney judges has been underway for 2 to 3 years to make sure our rights are protected and that these people are educated in the law, 3.) Recent increases in state mandated surcharges have been imposed by the legislature above what a judge will fine you, and 4.) How much more of my tax money do they want to revamp the justice system?
    Albany needs to be fixed first. Vote the incumbents out!

  27. Re #1. I live in the West. We have real judges, not the childish nonsense that apparently exists in NY. Do all NY politicians lack the common sense of a gnat as well as backbones?

  28. The system as it exists is nothing less than an embarrassment. If these upstate 'justices' have a problem owning up their routine unpreparedness, at best, if not complete unsuitability, then perhaps it is because the truth simply stings. I was never more embarrassed to be a resident of New York State as I was after reading that 2006 Times expose.

  29. One more indication of how broken all aspects of New York government really are. The poster above is right -- it's Wild West "justice" and it's pretty appalling when viewed up close. A number of years ago I got a "ticket" from an upstate town cop for passing in a no passing zone. The problem was, I hadn't passed anyone - I was the only car on the road and I had just pulled out of a driveway. Ironically, the stretch of road where this occurred actually was a passing zone.

    It was a blatant case of "fund raising by cop" and any doubt about that was dispelled when I responded to the bogus ticket and found myself in the "judge's" living room being threatened with jail if I didn't pay a $100 fine for an infraction that never occurred. I paid the fine and got the heck out of Dodge in one piece, but it turned out to be a gift that keeps on giving. A number of years later when I went to renew my driver's license it was denied because there was no record of my ever having responded to the ticket or paying the fine. The "judge" and cop were both gone by then -- presumably after having split my $100 between them. To resolve the situation I had no choice but to return to the town, this time to a new judge. Still not a lawyer, but he seemed an honest fellow trying to do the right thing. He dismissed my ticket and gave me the appropriate paperwork to take back to the DMV. On my way out the door I thanked him and he told me no thanks were needed -- I was just one of over a 100 of these "tickets" he'd had to resolve since taking office.

    So much for justice in upstate New York.

  30. The dysfunction continues. It's getting really scary.

  31. I've seen it in action and it does work. The idea that only lawyers can understand the law is absurd and elitist.
    You might as well seek to require that jurors be attorneys .
    At some point, for a democracy to work, you have to trust the people!

  32. Up-State courts are nothing more than Star Chambers. The local cops, the DA, the townie lawyers, and the non-lawyer 'judge' are all in collusion with each other. The name of the game is 'money.' Everyone makes out except the defendents.
    The ringmaster of the show is the local DA. Whatever he/she wants, they get.

  33. That judges are resisting this reform, which would mandate that judges be lawyers, shows that it is not only in Albany where a rot within governance exists, but rather that it is systemic throughout large sections of society. Imagine if such other professionals, such as doctors (or lawyers!), were allowed to perform without proof of education and training. Those who are resisting this reform are beyond the pale.

  34. This amazes me! I live in Michigan, and I've never heard of such a crazy good old boy system anywhere. I'd expect this from Mississippi or Alabamy, but not New York!!

  35. My personal experience with these small town courts was bad. However, I do not think that judges need to be lawyers. Remember, in the UK, they have had magistrates and justices of the peace for centuries who were not lawyers. They can put you in jail for up to a year, I believe. If these people receive adequate legal training, I do not think there is a problem here.

  36. Let me see if I have this right. The state Legislature is so corrupt and incompetent that it is a national laughingstock, and the Governor had to call them on the carpet in a public speech. So this poor excuse for a legislature won't take action to remove incompetent and possibly corrupt local justices? And we're surprised by that?

    If the Commission thought that the justice courts were unconstitutional, why doesn't someone take it to the Supreme Court?

  37. The old West style of "law and order" similar to that of Siberia today, exists in New York State.

    That old West style was set by faux "lawmen" for their fiefdoms, and that entire culture now exists in New York State.

    The best advice is to get a Legislator's plate, and when stopped for "speeding" the State Cop will address you as Squire and wish you a good day, and apologize for stopping you.

    The alternative is to have a Secret Service agent's ID, and the State or local cop who stopped you will run back to their

    Otherwise, be prepared for Pakistani justice.

  38. The village court system makes New York look like a backward, ignorant, uneducated place. I lived in upstate New York as a child, and loved it there, and went to excellent schools. For the state to continue to rely on such an antiquated "justice" system is completely unfair to the people of New York. It perpetuates the "good ole boy" system which is always antithetical to real fairness and justice. Such a system isn't much better than the Spanish Inquisition. The people of New York deserve far better.
    We have our problems in Virginia, but our justice system is a reasonably modern one based on knowledge of the law, not a system from colonial times based on ignorance of the law.

  39. So what is surprising here? Albany incapable of the most basic useful actions. What a stunner. Of course, at least according to polls most New Yorkers are just as idiotic or delusional about reality as their politicians. Considering how much of a beating Paterson takes in the news and is supposedly so unpopular in the polls. When he is one of the only politicians in this state and possibly country to be even close to truthful about reality. Albany and it's glorified crooks have demonstrated time and again how completely useless and tone deaf they are to the needs and wants of the people. Of course that is also true of our national level government. Both are focused on self interest and special interests that bought their vote. Our system of government is broken, top to bottom.

  40. We have to tear it down and start over.

    Arm yourselves and get ready.

  41. The reason for insisting that these "justices" have a law degree is the hope that they will be less likely to abuse their powers unknowingly. It would do little to protect the public from the intentional abuse that these "justices" are capable of.
    The incarceration of an innocent citizen is one of the most heinous acts the state can commit. Once incarcerated, there is no way to undo the damage. To allow these "justices" to have the power to incarcerate anyone is a direct affront to our civil rights.
    There needs to be serious limits placed on the power these people can wield. Especially when they are dealing with non-residents. If as resident you voted for a person to be your local justice, that's fine for you. It's almost like choosing an arbitrator. But for non-residents, it's like being put in front of a kangaroo court. The judge is first cousin to the police officer who is the second cousin to the guy who claims you dented his 1950 pick-up truck.
    That's not the kind of justice an American citizen expects or deserves.

  42. I call that a good system. I know several people who serve as justices in their communities and they are nothing more than citizens who have shown the dedication to serve their neighbors in the best manner they feel they can.

    Bu do they know the law, SGC? This is more of the Palinization of America. It doesn't matter what you know, it just matters that you think you have common sense. Whose common sense? The law is the law, like it or not.

  43. Well, at this point, I guess we should be happy that anybody even cares about NY north of Westchester and Orange. But, from a former upstate resident, I'll warn anybody from a modern legal system, watch the speed limit, and be very polite to Mr. Policeman. Now you know what you're up against.

  44. As an upstate NY native, I also read the Times' reports on the ridiculous Justice of the Peace I knew was a former high school principal. It's also not surprising that Republicans object to any changes, since it's mostly them holding the JP jobs.

  45. As an attorney the integrity of the justice court system is no different than elsewhere. Centralizing the court system with district courts in each county would insure decent housing and a centralized staff with the technology to expedite the work load; it would also reduce costs by providing a more efficient assigned counsel system to guarantee all defendants proper representation. A person can be trained to handle routine disputes without a law degree the same as a physicians assistant without a medical degree. The archaic civil and criminal justice system also contribute to the problems. For example, traffic matters could be handled administratively by the DMV as currently done in some urban areas. Unfortunately several members of the state legislature need to see a proctologist!

  46. In upstate New York corruption is everywhere. Village Justices, town assessors, zoning boards ect. But with Albany and the legeslature so messed up nothing will be done.

    The nice thing is that all that corruption leads to stagnation and lower home prices. This makes it cheaper for the folks to live in upstate New York.

  47. I have one question for all of the people who think it is fine that these justices can have no legal training even though they have the authority to send you to prison. Would you have surgery performed by a "doctor" who did not go to medical school. Would you say that "common sense" and small town "values" was all that was necessary to practice medicine?

  48. ahhhh the WRONG people's justice

  49. This article is typical of the downstate mentality that demands a Cadillac solution for everything.

    You're killing us up here with the most expensive state government and most expensive Medicaid program in the country. Now this too?

    We are not nearly as wealthy a region up here as you are down there. We cannot afford all the niceties that you can. Please stop treating the rest of the state as if it is an extension of Manhattan.

    If someone has a problem with the justice they receive in a town or village court, I'm sure they have avenues of appeal into the State system. Problem solved.

  50. New York State small courts are just a disgrace...the best legal advice you can ever have in this regard is to stay out of these Courts...period...!

  51. The village justice --the only judicial recourse- in the small village I moved away from in upstate NY was my next door neighbor and a determined peeping tom.

    When I caught him at it, confronted him privately and blocked it from going further by actually installing outdoor curtains, he began telling the entire village that I was a lesbian and kept referring to me as MR - based on him seeing me hugging good-bye a visiting friend whose husband had recently died. Both of us are straight.

    But the ultimate motive apparently was my disregarding his demand that I plant a lawn near his fence. He often came onto my property to have a look round my windows when I was out. We lived on a village street and it did not faze him in the least that other residents watched him do it. Who would there be to oppose him?

    Then I had to appear in his court to contest a plumber whose incompetence had brought down most of my living room ceiling because he forgot to turn off the leaking internal water line in it and left it for a week. I couldn't understand how he had the nerve to sue me for not paying his bill, until I found out who he was friendly with. The plumber-- who never appeared --sent his wife, a long-time friend of the judge-- to court instead. She had no absolutely idea of what the case was about, had never set foot in my home, Had no idea what the case was about, etc.

    You can guess who won the case. When I went to appeal the case -- as was my right-- I was told that no records were kept of it--none-- and that I would not be able to say one single word in court. He just looked at me, read out the case title and dismissed it.

    This "justice" only previous legal experience was as a former motorcycle cop and stove store owner.
    My houseplants have more knowledge of the law and certainly more integrity than he does.

    I moved cross-country, partly to get away from people like him. But he is still there on the bench today, playing favorites and doing things like sentencing lawyers who try to oppose him to jail for contempt of court.
    As if there could be any other attitude towards him.
    I discovered that justice which is normally portrayed as blind was in this town not only deaf, but was here exceedingly dumb.

    I can only consider it a coincidence that this village, blighted by several people like this whose self-interest is their only qualification for government salary, is withering to a point that its most prosperous time was upwards of 60 years ago. Like almost every resident there, especially those who had moved ther expecting better, my main goal was to move away.
    It is literally in worse shape now than it was during the Depression. And this man has a major part in making it that way.

  52. This is INCREDIBLE!, and I read the 2006 series of articles! It's incredible that anyone can preside over someone else, with that person's property and liberty at stake, and the person presiding cannot preside in a professional, let alone knowledgeable fashion.... but when challenged, it's a 'threat to democracy?' What has to happen here before anything changes? I find it inconceivable that the attorney defending someone has more knowledge of the process than the person presiding over the proceedings, again, given the accused running the risk of losing freedom or property. It makes me wonder why someone would subject him/herself to this !!!

  53. Upstate respondents talk about local traditions, common sense, and decent people wanting to serve their communities. Those are all well and good. But what about actually KNOWING the law? It just seems crazy that wouldn't be one of the base criteria for operating as an official in a legal system. Its easy to say that lawyers are the cause of all our problems. Making legal decisions that effect peoples' lives with only a cursory understanding of the law seems much more dangerous to me.

  54. Is it sensible that someone with (now) two weeks training in the law should be in a position to pass legal judgment, even to sentence a defendant to a year in jail? It's the "good ol' boy" network, transplanted from Bubba-land to New York.

  55. I'm a resident of a small community in upstate New York (yes, north of Albany). Many of my fellow upstaters are always bleating the influence of downstaters or other alleged ills associated with being a citizen of New York. But when it comes to supporting real reforms -- such as ensuring that defendants in justice courts can appear before lawyer-judges or truly reforming a corrupt Legislature -- all of their "courageous" political talk dissolves into what it is: self-serving nonsense that keeps talk radio afloat, but has no connection to reality.

  56. Kentucky did away with the same antiquated system in 1974. A unified court system was established with all judges required to be lawyers and held to the same standard of conduct. It is comforting to know that someone who has the power to lock you up does know whether or not it is legal.

  57. The village justice system isn't really all that bad. Better to have an arraignment at the local fire house at 3:00 AM with the local fire chief justice and a free ride home after the arraignment instead of a one way ticket to Rikers Island waiting for an arraignment.

  58. The 6th Amendment grants the right to effective assistance of counsel, which means at the very least, a licensed attorney. If we are entitled to a competent attorney, it should go without saying that we're entitled to a competent magistrate.

  59. I guess living in New York state is sort of like living anywhere else in the US, minus the constitutional protections.

  60. Pennsylvania did this years ago. We had justice of the peace officers (elected) couldn't always get someone home for us or the police. County DA ran the Magistrate Office after reform (still elected person), some were lawyers but others had to take courses involving the correct procedure for laws. this covered local police officers in that procedures were correct. they still handle everything from drivers permits to murder charges. major cases were arraigned at Magistrates Office then sent to DA. Been working ever since

  61. I have no personal experience with these small-town New York courts so my comment is more generalized. Some posters have reminded us that judges who are lawyers can make mistakes and can be corrupt and that some of the non-lawyer justices are competent and honest. That is absolutely true. If the situation required it, I might be able to perform a successful apendectomy with a medical book at my disposal, just as a non-lawyer may be able to follow the Constitution and criminal statutes. That being said, would not my patient be more comfortable having his appendix removed by someone who went to medical school?

    The same is true for someone who is being charged with a criminal offense for which a person can be jailed. Yes, the "country justice" might handle the situation appropriately, but what if there are serious issues? Additionally, what is the recourse if the local justice mishandles the case? A judge who is a lawyer not only runs the risk of removal from the bench, but losing his/her license to practice law--his/her means of livelihood. Would a refrigerator repairman/justice have as much at stake? Not all lawyers read and follow the Rules of Professional Conduct, but most do. There are legitimate reasons why nearly every state requires one complete a 3-year program at an ABA-accredited law school in order to practice law. Sometimes the law is simple and involves relatively trivial matters, but sometimes it is more important.

    I would have no problem with a non-lawyer justice handling parking tickets, other civil fines and small civil disputes, but criminal rights and jail time are another matter.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I am an attorney licensed in Louisiana and Mississippi, practicing primarily in civil litigation.

  62. Would you use an unlicensed doctor to open up your heart? Perhaps that person read many medical books and journals, can you trust that person? That is the problem, there is no established and agreeable baseline with the current system.

    It is probably true that many of the current people who are serving as justices are serving with that community in mind. It is also true that there are problems with such a system as it can be corrupted and unequal in regards to other parts of the state. Without a baseline, one town might get an excellent justice while the next town will get a horrible one. Having people who are in the bar can serve as a baseline but there can be other options. Perhaps a test of knowledge set up by Albany. We need make sure there is a reasonable baseline for dispensing law.

  63. Other than the one or two local factories that pay minimum wage and spew pollution into the air like LaFarge Cement (mercury, lead etc.) or GE of old (PCBs), or the prison where 80% of the lock-up consists of minorities and the prison guard jobs pay just above minimum wage, these small towns are dependent on tourist dollars. That's why they're trying to get you to slow down and help support their local justice system. Yes they're almost universally tea-bagging Republicans and they hate you. Interestingly, many of them used to live in NY and left during the sixties as 'white flight.' The fact is most of the kids who were born up here made it their business to escape if they had any brains or ambition. That left behind the ones with limited brains, and small time, small town greed. But, they don't see it that way. If they're higher on the food chain they get the annual contribution from the local polluting cement factory, whatever. If they're an elected official, they get to appoint public works and administrative jobs, which is about 50% of the local remaining job base in areas like Delaware County, Greene, etc., which is another reason the state is facing bankruptcy. Ask the local seers in the Republican party how to solve it and besides 'small business loans' (har-har), they'll say letting the oil industry extract natural gas by pumping millions of gallons of toxic solvents into the soil. The tickets industry small potatoes compared to what the big boys have in store up state if Pennsylvania's any guide to their ambitions.

  64. I work in the (supreme) court system, and know first hand that lawyers do not necessarily make a system better (full disclosure: I am a lawyer). With that said, how do you have a person in a position to enforce the law without any method by which to determine whether that person understands the law? It's true, as one person pointed out, that the US Supreme Court Justices do not have to be lawyers, but think about the rigorous evaluation given to any Supreme Court nominee to determine whether they have the knowledge and experience to enforce and interpret the supreme law of the land. What's the evaluation of justice court judges? An election where no one asks what their qualifications are?

    It isn't about "upstate is backwards" or "NYC had its problems too"... that's ridiculous and has nothing to do with the problem. The problem is that, although the justice courts long ago became corrupt and incompetent as a general principal - not that all of the judges are bad, but when the problem becomes this rampant, the system is defined by its disfunction - our elected representatives for the most part are completely unwilling to do anything about it. More importantly, though, our Court Administration leaders are opposing the same changes that they acknowledged were necessary and their own commission recommended!!!!!! This is a travesty! If the court administrators supported the changes, it would be much more likely to happen.

    Every one of us deserves to go before a judge or justice who is well-educated in the matters over which they preside. Period. That includes Supreme Court, Civil Court and Justice Courts. In fact, that includes Administrative courts like OATH and the Taxi and Limousine Commission. And any time it doesn't happen because of a systemic failure, we should be up in arms whether it's happening in NYC or on Long Island or in Westchester or Albany. It's a disgrace.

  65. This is just amazing! At least in Arkansas our judges have law degrees. I don't think you have any justification for making fun of rednecks again. You should perhaps look to us for guidance on this issue.

  66. I'm reading a lot of comments from city residents who seem to be even bigger bigots and more narrow-minded than those in the sweeping area outside of metro New York City that comprises the remainder of New York State.

    Small-town justice? How about big NYC "justice?" Not guilty pleas by mail for parking, speeding or other traffic tickets issued to out-of-staters or upstaters denied despite providing irrefutable evidence that neither the car nor the driver cited could have been in NYC on the day the summons was issued, necessitating additional efforts that often make it cheaper to just pay the fine. Just one minor example that no doubt nets NYC a huge profit on bogus charges annually. And let's face it, there's much more serious judicial malfeasance going on in the Big Apple, too. (Judge Wachter, anyone?) It's not an upstate/downstate issue. But rest assured, lots of upstaters feel much the same way as you've posted about you and your "sophisticated," boorish ilk.

  67. Those more than a few so-called "untouchable" corrupt justices mentioned here. and chronicled by the NYTs in their series of articles, have not thought through the options available to angry victims.

    Payback can be very expensive.

    There are people in Italy who would come here to speak with them for nothing, just to get the experience.

  68. Wow. Scary. Another reason I'll never voluntarily live in NY. I want no part of being subjected to a legal system where I might be judged by someone who has never even studied law. Two weeks of training doesn't do it for me. I don't care if this is "always the way it's been done" or not. Maybe in NY, but not in the rest of the country -- at least the parts I've lived in.

    I don't doubt that a random "refrigerator salesman" might be more honest and fair-minded than some attorneys -- I don't worship lawyers, but I don't automatically distrust them all either. I do believe that there's more scrutiny and accountability for members of the legal profession, with more opportunities for recourse if they're incompetent or totally corrupt.

    And I'm not aware that the states which require judges to be lawyers are not "democratic."