Judiciary of New York
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The court system in New York tends to produce mild confusion for outsiders. The highest court of appeal is the Court of Appeals (instead of the "Supreme Court") whereas the primary felony trial courts are the Supreme Court and the County Courts (outside of New York City). The Supreme Court also acts as the intermediate appellate court for many cases, and the local courts handle a variety of other matters including small claims, traffic ticket cases and local zoning matters, and are the starting point for all criminal cases. The New York City Courts make up the largest local court system.
The New York State Judiciary is a unified state court system that functions under the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals who is the administrator-in-chief and known as the Chief Judge of New York, and is assisted by the Chief Administrative Judge and numerous other agencies.
- 1 Courts
- 2 Other tribunals
- 3 Administration
- 4 Officers
- 5 History
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
|New York State Unified Court System|
In general, the judicial system is composed of the trial courts, consisting of the superior courts and the inferior courts, and the appellate courts.
The appellate courts are the:
- Court of Appeals
- Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
- Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court
- Appellate Sessions of the County Courts
The superior courts are the:
- Supreme Court
- County Courts
- specialized courts (Courts of Claims, Family Courts, Surrogate's Courts)
And the inferior courts are the local courts:
- New York City Courts
- Justice Courts (Town and Village Courts)
- District Courts
Jurisdiction differs for civil and criminal courts and for courts in different places. The New York State Court System is divided into thirteen Judicial Districts (JDs). There are six upstate JD's, each comprising 5-11 counties. There are five JDs in New York City and two on Long Island.
Court of Appeals
The New York State Court of Appeals is the State's highest court. In civil cases, appeals are taken almost exclusively from decisions of the Appellate Divisions. In criminal cases, depending on the type of case and the part of the state in which it arose, appeals can be heard from decisions of the Appellate Division, the Appellate Term, and the County Courts.
Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division is the State's second-highest court. It hears appeals primarily from state trial-courts, including the Supreme Court, the County Courts, the Surrogate's Court, the Family Court, and the Court of Claims. The Appellate Division also resolves many challenges to actions by administrative agencies. The court is regionally divided into four judicial departments. The Appellate Division in each department also supervises admission of new lawyers to the state's bar as well as disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, duties that most other states are handled by the jurisdiction's highest court.
Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court
Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court (not to be confused with the Appellate Division) are located in the First and Second Judicial Departments only. In the five boroughs of New York City, the Appellate Term hears cases from the New York City Civil Court and the New York City Criminal Court. In the suburban counties, the Appellate Term hears cases from the city, district, town, and village courts, and in misdemeanor cases from the County Courts. Further appeals, when permitted, are taken to the Court of Appeals in criminal cases and the Appellate Division in civil cases.
The court of general jurisdiction in New York is the New York Supreme Court. (Unlike in most other states, the Supreme Court is a trial court and is not the highest court in the state). There is a branch of the New York Supreme Court in each of New York State's 62 counties. Counties with small populations share justices.
In New York City, the Supreme Court in each county that hears all felony cases; outside New York City, these cases are generally heard in the County Court. The Supreme Court hears civil cases seeking money damages exceed the monetary limits of the local courts' jurisdiction. The Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over most cases in which a party seeks equitable relief such as an injunction, declaratory judgment actions, or proceedings for review of many administrative-agency rulings. The court also has exclusive jurisdiction over matrimonial actions seeking a divorce, legal separation, or annulment of a marriage. In several counties the Supreme Court has a specialized Commercial Division that hears commercial cases.
In almost all cases, appeals from judgments or orders of the Supreme Court are taken to its Appellate Division.
A County Court exists in each county except for the five counties of New York City, and unlike the Supreme Court each are considered distinct. The Court has unlimited criminal jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction where the amount in controversy is no more than $25,000. In many counties, this court primarily hears criminal cases (whereas the Supreme Court primarily hears civil cases), and usually only felonies as lesser crimes are handled by local courts.
In the Third and Fourth Judicial Departments, the County Courts also have appellate jurisdiction and hears appeals from the local city, town, and village courts.
Appeal is generally to the Appellate Division of Supreme Court. Where an Appellate Terms exists, misdemeanor appeals are heard by that court, and directly to the Court of Appeals in other criminal cases.
- The Surrogate's Court exercises exclusive jurisdiction over probate and related matters, and also has jurisdiction over certain guardianship matters (concurrent with the Supreme Court) and over adoption proceedings (concurrent with the Family Court). A Surrogate's Court is located in each county of the state. The judges, known as Surrogates, are 14-year terms within New York City and 10-year terms elsewhere in the state.
- The Family Court has exclusive jurisdiction over certain matters involving minors, including juvenile delinquency charges, status offenses, child abuse and neglect, termination of parental rights, adoption, and guardianships. It also handles aspects of domestic relations disputes including child support and child custody (although only the Supreme Court can grant a divorse). The judges serve 10-year terms; those outside New York City are elected, while those in New York City are appointed to by the Mayor.
- The Court of Claims hears actions seeking monetary damages against the State of New York itself. The judges are appointed by the Governor subject to confirmation by the State Senate.
- The court system is different at the local court level in New York City. The New York City Courts, mainly composed of the New York City Criminal Court and the New York City Civil Court, are local courts in the 5 boroughs of New York City.
- District Courts are the local criminal and civil courts in Nassau County and the five western towns of Suffolk County, arraign felonies and try misdemeanors and lesser offenses, as well as civil lawsuits involving claims of up to $15,000, Small Claims and Small Commercial Claims up to $5000, and landlord-tenant actions. District Court Judges are elected to 6 year terms.
- City Courts handle the arraignment of felonies. They try misdemeanors and lesser offenses as well as civil lawsuits involving claims of up to $15,000. Some City Courts have small claims parts for the informal disposition of matters involving claims of up to $5,000 and/or housing parts to handle landlord-tenant matters and housing violations. City Court judges may be elected or appointed, depending upon the city. Full-time City Court judges serve 10-year terms. Part-time City Court judges serve six-year terms.
- Justice Courts (Town and Village Courts) try misdemeanors and lesser offenses in towns and villages. These courts are the starting point for all criminal cases outside cities, and handle a variety of other matters including small claims, traffic ticket cases and local zoning matters. They also arraign defendants accused of felonies. These courts may hear civil lawsuits involving claims of up to $3,000 (including Small Claims cases of up to $3,000). Justices are elected to four-year terms. The majority of justices are not attorneys. Non-attorney justices must successfully complete a certification course and participate in continuing judicial education. The Town and Village Justice Courts are locally funded, as opposed to the state-funded City and District courts.
- There are a group of courts which are called "problem-solving." They include Drug Court, Domestic Violence Court, Sex Offense Court, Mental Health Court, and "Community Court" (such as the Midtown Community Court) which attempts to intervene with alternative sentences in order to halt the cycle of criminal activity. These problem-solving courts are usually parts of the local court or County or Supreme Court.
There are a few other courts that are not normally considered part of the New York State Unified Court System or the judiciary proper.
The Traffic Violations Bureau (TVB) is an arm of the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles entrusted with adjudicating non-criminal traffic violations in New York City and the cities of Buffalo, Rochester. Effective April 1, 2013, the Suffolk County TVB was replaced with the new Suffolk County Traffic & Parking Violations Agency. The rationale behind the establishment of this office was to offload the large volume of such cases from the regular courts.
The New York Court for the Trial of Impeachments, often referred to as the Impeachment Court or sometimes as the High Court of Impeachment, is for the trial of State officers who had been impeached by the New York State Assembly.
The Judiciary of New York is a unified state court system that functions under the Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals who is the ex officio Chief Judge of New York. The Chief Judge supervises the seven-judge Court of Appeals and is chair of the Administrative Board of the Courts. In addition, the Chief Judge establishes standards and administrative policies after consultation with the Administrative Board and approval by the Court of Appeals. The Administrative Board is composed of the presiding judges of each judicial district. The Chief Administrative Judge (if a judge) or Chief Administrator (if not a judge) is appointed by the Chief Judge with the advice and consent of the Administrative Board and oversees the administration and operation of the court system, assisted by the Office of Court Administration. The Judicial Conference of the State of New York is responsible for surveying current practice in the administration of the State's courts, compiling statistics, and suggesting legislation and regulations.
Many counties use the New York State Courts Electronic Filing System for electronic court filing (e-filing). The New York State Reporter of the New York State Law Bureau is the official reporter of decisions and is required to publish every opinion, memorandum, and motion sent to it by the Court of Appeals and the Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court in the New York Reports. The Appellate Term and trial court opinions are published selectively in the Miscellaneous Reports. The State Reporter is appointed by the Court of Appeals. The current versions are the New York Reports 3d (cited as N.Y.3d), the Appellate Division Reports 3d (cited as A.D.3d) and the Miscellaneous Reports 3d (cited as Misc. 3d).
As of 2009, the New York State Unified Court System had a $2.5 billion annual budget and more than 16,000 employees. It has a $2 billion budget, 3,600 State and locally paid Judges and over 15,000 nonjudicial employees in over 300 locations around the State.
List of Chief Administrative Judges
- Richard J. Bartlett, 1974-1979
- Herbert J. Evans, 1979-1983
- Robert J. Sise, 1983-1985
- Joseph W. Bellacosa, 1985-1987
- Albert M. Rosenblatt, 1987-1989
- Matthew T. Crosson, 1989-1993
- E. Leo Milonas, 1993-1995
- Jonathan Lippman, 1996-2007
- Ann Pfau, 2007-2011
- A. Gail Prudenti, 2011-
There are several officers of the court, including judges, jurors, and bailiffs. The New York State Bar Association is a voluntary bar association of New York, but others exist such the New York City Bar Association.
Along with the unusual names for the courts, judges in Supreme Court and the Justice Courts are called Justices, while on the Court of Appeals (and in other courts such as Family Court, County Court, and Surrogates Court), they are called Judges.
Judges are regulated by the Code of Judicial Conduct promulgated by the Chief Administrative Judge, the New York Code of Judicial Conduct adopted by the New York State Bar Association, and the relevant rules of the respective Appellate Division departments. The eleven-member New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct receives complaints, investigates, and makes initial determinations regarding judicial conduct and may recommend admonishment, censure, or removal from office to the Chief Judge and Court of Appeals. The New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics issues confidential advisory opinions regarding judicial conduct. The Ethics Commission for the Unified Court System administers financial disclosure requirements.
The Court of Appeals promulgates rules for admission to practice law in New York. The New York State Education Department promulgates standards for law school education, and the New York State Board of Law Examiners administers the New York State bar examination. Lawyers are regulated by various state laws, the Rules of Professional Conduct (based on the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct), and rules adopted by each department of the Supreme Court Appellate Division. Each department of the Appellate Division has a committee that investigates complaints of attorney misconduct and may issue reprimands or recommend censure, suspension, or disbarment to the Appellate Division.
New York State Court Officers are law enforcement officers who provide police services to the New York State Unified Court System (i.e. bailiffs), and enforce state and city laws at all facilities operated by the New York State Unified Court System.
Historically, county superior courts—like New York's county-by-county Supreme Court—were the highest level of trial court, overseeing a network of inferior trial courts (e.g., municipal courts, recorder's courts, courts of referees and commissioners, etc.), the decisions of which could be appealed within the trial court system to the superior courts. Most states have long-since consolidated their inferior trial courts, however, so that they now have just the one trial court—the superior, circuit or supreme court.
The Constitution of 1846 made several changes to the organization of the courts. The Court of Chancery was abolished and jurisdiction over equity was transferred to the New York Supreme Court. The Court for the Correction of Errors was abolished and jurisdiction over appeals was transferred to the Court of Appeals. The Circuit Courts were abolished and replaced by the district benches of the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals was established in July 1847, consisting of four statewide elected judges and four justices chosen annually from the New York Supreme Court.
The New York Court of Common Pleas had been established in 1686 in New York City, extended in 1691 throughout the state, had been again restricted to New York City in 1846, and was abolished in 1895. The New York Court for the Trial of Impeachments was established by the New York State Constitution of 1777 and was split from the Court for the Correction of Errors upon that court's disestablishment in 1846.
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- Lincoln, Charles Z., The Constitutional History of New York from the Beginning of the Colonial Period to the Year 1905 (1906)
- State of New York, Department of State, New York Constitution 
- The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York 
- New York State Courts
- New York State Courts Electronic Filing System
- Court decisions
- National Center for State Courts