Judiciary of New York

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The judiciary of New York (officially the New York State Unified Court System) is a branch of the Government of New York that interprets and applies the law of New York, ensures equal justice under law, and provides a mechanism for dispute resolution. The judiciary is based in Albany. The highest court is the Court of Appeals, below which the primary felony trial courts are the Supreme Court and the county courts (outside 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 system is administered by the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, also known as the Chief Judge of New York, the Administrative Board of the Courts, the Chief Administrative Judge and numerous other agencies.


New York State Unified Court System

Court of Appeals
Supreme Court, Appellate Division
Supreme Court
Court of Claims
Surrogate's Court
New York City Courts (Civil, Criminal)

In general, the judicial system is composed of the trial courts, consisting of the superior courts and the inferior courts, and the appellate courts.[1]

The appellate courts are the:[1]

  • Court of Appeals
  • Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
  • appellate terms of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court
  • appellate sessions of the county courts

The superior courts are the:[1]

  • Supreme Court
  • county courts
  • specialized courts (Court of Claims, family courts, surrogates' courts)

And the inferior courts are the local courts:[1]

  • New York City Courts
  • city courts
  • justice courts (town and village courts)
  • district courts

There are also a few other tribunals that are not normally considered part of the New York State Unified Court System or the judiciary proper.

Jurisdiction differs for civil and criminal courts and for courts in different places.

Court of Appeals[edit]

The New York State Court of Appeals building in Albany.

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[edit]

The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division is the state's second-highest court. It primarily hears appeals from the superior courts in civil cases, the Supreme Court in criminal cases, and the county courts in felony criminal cases in the Third and Fourth Judicial Departments.[2] 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 Appellate Division of the Supreme Court[edit]

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in each judicial department is authorized to establish "appellate terms".[3] An appellate term is an intermediate appellate court that hears appeals from the inferior courts and nonfelony criminal appeals from county courts within the designated judicial districts, and are intended to ease the workload on the Appellate Division and provide a less expensive forum closer to the people.[3][4] Appellate terms are located in the First and Second Judicial Departments only.[3] Further appeals, when permitted, are taken to the Court of Appeals in criminal cases and the Appellate Division in civil cases.[citation needed]

Appellate sessions of the county courts[edit]

The county courts are authorized to establish "appellate sessions", an intermediate appellate court that hears appeals from the inferior courts.[4] Appellate terms are located in the Third and Fourth Judicial Departments only.[4] Appeals in civil cases are to the Appellate Division as of right, and in criminal matters appeals are to the Court of Appeals only by permission of a judge of the Court of Appeals.[4]

Supreme Court[edit]

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.[5]

In almost all cases, appeals from judgments or orders of the Supreme Court are taken to its Appellate Division.

County courts[edit]

A county court exists in each county except for the five counties of New York City (in those counties, the New York City Courts and Supreme Court operate in place of a typical county court). Unlike the Supreme Court, each county court is considered distinct.[6]

The court has unlimited criminal jurisdiction and civil jurisdiction where the amount in controversy is no more than $25,000.[6] In many counties, this court primarily hears criminal cases (whereas the Supreme Court primarily hears civil cases),[7] and usually only felonies as lesser crimes are handled by local courts.[8]

Appeal from a county court is generally to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. Where an appellate term of the Supreme Court exists, misdemeanor appeals are heard by that court and other appeals are directly to the Court of Appeals.

Specialized courts[edit]

  • 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 divorce).
  • 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.

Local courts[edit]

A New York City Criminal Courts building, connected to the Tombs.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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). Unlike all other courts which are state-funded, the town and village justice courts are locally funded.[9]

Other courts[edit]

  • There are a group of courts which are called "problem-solving." They include drug courts, domestic violence courts, sex offense courts, mental health courts, and "community courts" (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, county, or Supreme Court.

Other tribunals[edit]


Further information: Law of New York


Decisions of the New York Court of Appeals are binding authority on all lower courts, and persuasive authority for itself in later cases.[11] Decisions of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division department panels are binding on the lower courts in that department, and are persuasive authority for the Court of Appeals, other Appellate Division departments and lower courts in other departments.[11] In the absence of a relevant Appellate Division decision from a trial court's own department, the trial court is bound by the applicable decisions of other departments.[11][12] Published trial court decisions are persuasive authority for all other courts in the state.[11]


The Civil Practice Law and Rules (CPLR) is Book 7B of the Consolidated Laws of New York[13] and governs legal procedure in the state's courts such as jurisdiction, venue, and pleadings, as well certain areas of substantive law such as the statute of limitations and joint and several liability.[14][15]


Map of New York judicial districts.

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.[16] In addition, the Chief Judge establishes standards and administrative policies after consultation with the Administrative Board and approval by the Court of Appeals.[16] The Administrative Board is composed of the presiding judges of each judicial district.[16] 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.[16][17][18] 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.[17]

The court system is divided into thirteen judicial districts (JDs): six upstate JDs each comprising 5-11 counties, five JDs in New York City, and two JDs on Long Island. In each judicial district outside New York City a District Administrative Judge is responsible for supervising all courts and agencies, while inside New York City an Administrative Judge supervises each major court.[19] Supervising Judges are responsible for assisting Administrative Judges in the on-site management of the trial courts, including court caseloads, personnel, and budget administration, and each manage a particular type of court within a county or judicial district.[19] The District Administrative Judge is also assisted by the District Executive and support staff.[20] The district administrative offices are responsible for personnel, purchasing, budgets, revenue, computer automation, court interpreters, court security, and case management.[20]

Map of the departments of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division.
     First Department      Second Department
     Third Department      Fourth Department

Many counties use the New York State Courts Electronic Filing System for electronic court filing (e-filing).[21][22] The New York State Reporter of the New York State Law Reporting 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 and Appellate Division Reports, respectively.[23][24][25] The appellate term and trial court opinions are published selectively in the Miscellaneous Reports.[24][26] The State Reporter is appointed by the Court of Appeals.[24] 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).[27]

All courts, except justice courts (town and village courts), are financed by the state in a single court budget.[9] During 2009, the judiciary had approximately 1300 judges, 4.6 million new cases, a budget in excess of $2.5 billion, and more than 16,000 employees.[citation needed][28] 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.[citation needed]


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.


Judges of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of Senate upon recommendation of a commission on judicial nomination.[29] Judges of the Court of Claims elected in the same manner, without the requirement of a commission recommendation.[29] All other justices are elected, with the exception of those of the New York City Criminal Courts, New York City family courts, and some other city courts, which are appointed by the mayor.[29]

District Court Judges are elected to 6 year terms.[citation needed] Full-time city court judges serve 10-year terms, and part-time city court judges serve six-year terms.[citation needed] Justice court justices are elected to four-year terms.[citation needed] The majority of justice court justices are not attorneys, and non-attorney justices must successfully complete a certification course and participate in continuing judicial education.[citation needed] Surrogates serve 14-year terms within New York City and 10-year terms elsewhere in the state.[citation needed] Family court judges serve 10-year terms; those outside New York City are elected, while those in New York City are appointed to by the Mayor.[citation needed]

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.[30] The eleven-member New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct receives complaints, investigates, and makes initial determinations regarding judicial conduct and may recommend admonition, censure, or removal from office to the Chief Judge and Court of Appeals.[30][31] The New York Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics issues confidential advisory opinions regarding judicial conduct.[30][32] The Ethics Commission for the Unified Court System administers financial disclosure requirements.[17]

Along with the unusual names for the courts, judges in the Supreme Court and the justice courts are called justices, while in the Court of Appeals and in other courts such as the family courts, county courts, and surrogates' courts, they are called judges.[citation needed]


The Court of Appeals promulgates rules for admission to practice law in New York.[33] 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.[33] 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.[34][35] 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.[36]


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.

Analysis and criticism[edit]

The Court of Appeals ruled in 1991 that most people arrested must be released if they are not arraigned within 24 hours.[37] In 2013, for the first time since 2001, the average time it took to arraign defendants fell below 24 hours in all five boroughs of New York City.[38] But there have been accusations of systematic trial delays,[39][40] especially with regards to the New York City stop-and-frisk program.[41]

New York's use of remand (pre-trial detention) and bail procedures have also been criticized.[42] For example, New York is one of only four states that does not allow judges to consider public safety when making a bail determination.[42]


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 Supreme Court. The Court for the Correction of Errors was abolished and jurisdiction over appeals was transferred to the Court of Appeals.[23] The New York circuit courts, by the constitution of 1821, 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 Supreme Court.

The 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 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 123.
  2. ^ Practice of Law 2012, pp. 9-10.
  3. ^ a b c Galie & Bopst 2012, p. 177.
  4. ^ a b c d Practice of Law 2012, p. 6.
  5. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 127.
  6. ^ a b Galie 1991, p. 133.
  7. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 128.
  8. ^ Stonecash, Jeffrey M. (2001). Governing New York State (4th ed.). SUNY Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-7914-4888-6. LCCN 00-032955. 
  9. ^ a b Local Government Handbook, p. 19.
  10. ^ NY DMV brochure on Traffic Violations Bureau
  11. ^ a b c d Birnbaum, Edward L.; Belen, Ariel E.; Grasso, Carl T. (2012). New York Trial Notebook (6th ed.). James Publishing. p. 1-23. ISBN 1-58012-104-7. 
  12. ^ Duffy v. Horton Memorial Hospital, 66 N.Y.2d 473, 497 N.Y.S.2d 890 (1985); Mountain View Coach Lines v. Storms, 102 A.D.2d 663, 476 N.Y.S.2d 918 (2d Dept. 1984).
  13. ^ "Zimmerman's Research Guide - New York Civil Practice Act". LexisNexis. Retrieved 3 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Article 2, Civil Practice Law & Rules 
  15. ^ Article 16, Civil Practice Law & Rules 
  16. ^ a b c d Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 130.
  17. ^ a b c Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 131.
  18. ^ "Office of Court Administration". New York State Office of Court Administration. Retrieved 13 July 2013. 
  19. ^ a b "Court Administration". New York State Office of Court Administration. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  20. ^ a b "9th Judicial District". New York State Office of Court Administration. Retrieved 1 September 2014. 
  21. ^ Miller, Roger LeRoy; Meinzinger, Mary. Paralegal Today: The Legal Team at Work. West Legal Studies (6th ed.). Cengage Learning. p. 156. ISBN 9781133591078. 
  22. ^ Report on the Progress Toward Implementing Statewide Electronic Filing in New York Courts, New York State Bar Association, 30 March 2012 
  23. ^ a b Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 149.
  24. ^ a b c Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 153.
  25. ^ "About the Official Reports". New York State Law Reporting Bureau. Retrieved 20 August 2014. 
  26. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 151.
  27. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 155.
  28. ^ Galie & Bopst 2012, p. 161.
  29. ^ a b c Local Government Handbook, p. 21.
  30. ^ a b c Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 132.
  31. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, pp. 133–134.
  32. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 134.
  33. ^ a b Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 135.
  34. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, pp. 136–138.
  35. ^ "New Attorney Rules of Professional Conduct Announced" (Press release). New York Office of Court Administration. 17 December 2008. 
  36. ^ Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 138.
  37. ^ Sack, Kevin (27 March 1991). "Ruling Forces New York to Release Or Arraign Suspects in 24 Hours". The New York Times. 
  38. ^ McKinley Jr., James C. (19 March 2014). "New York Courts Cut Time Between Arrest and Arraignment". The New York Times. 
  39. ^ Glaberson, William (15 April 2013). "Courts in Slow Motion, Aided by the Defense". The New York Times. p. A1. 
  40. ^ Glaberson, William (16 April 2013). "For 3 Years After Killing, Evidence Fades as a Suspect Sits in Jail". The New York Times. p. A1. 
  41. ^ Glaberson, William (1 May 2013). "Even for Minor Crimes in Bronx, No Guarantee of Getting a Trial". The New York Times. p. A1. 
  42. ^ a b Buettner, Russ (5 February 2013). "Top Judge Says Bail in New York Isn't Safe or Fair". The New York Times. 


External links[edit]