New York Supreme Court
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|New York State Unified Court System|
The Supreme Court of the State of New York is the trial-level court of general jurisdiction in the New York State Unified Court System. It is vested with unlimited civil and criminal jurisdiction, although outside New York City it acts primarily as a court of civil jurisdiction, with most criminal matters handled in County Court. There is a branch of the New York Supreme Court in each of New York's 62 counties. Unlike in most other states, the Supreme Court is a trial court and is not the highest court in the state. The highest court of the State of New York is the Court of Appeals.
- 1 Jurisdiction
- 2 Structure
- 3 Administration
- 4 Judges
- 5 Courthouses
- 6 History
- 7 Miscellany
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Under the New York State Constitution, the New York State Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases, with the exception of certain monetary claims against the State of New York itself. In practice, the Supreme Court hears civil actions involving claims above a certain monetary amount (for example, $25,000 in New York City) that puts the claim beyond the jurisdiction of lower courts. Civil actions about lesser sums are heard by courts of limited jurisdiction, such as the New York City Civil Court, or the County Court, District Court, city courts, or justice courts (town and village courts) outside New York City. With respect to criminal cases, the Criminal Branch of Supreme Court tries felony cases in the five counties of New York City, whereas they are primarily heard by the County Court elsewhere. Misdemeanor cases, and arraignments in almost all cases, are handled by lower courts: the New York City Criminal Court, by the District Court in Nassau County, and by the District Court in the five western towns of Suffolk County. The least criminal cases are heard by city courts, town courts and village courts.
The Supreme Court also hears cases involving claims for equitable relief, such as injunctions, specific performance, or rescission of a contract, as well as actions for a declaratory judgment. The Supreme Court also has exclusive jurisdiction of matrimonial actions, such as either contested or uncontested actions for a divorce or annulment). The court also has exclusive jurisdictions against proceedings against a body or officer seeking to overturn an official determination on the grounds that it was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable or contrary to law. Those suits are provided for in Article 78 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules, which supersedes the common-law writs of mandamus, prohibition, and certiorari.
Certain types of matters are handled by specialized New York state courts. These include the Surrogate's Court, which handles the estates of deceased persons, including probate matters. While the Supreme Court theoretically has concurrent jurisdiction in these cases, as a practical matter it would not exercise that jurisdiction. The Family Court hears juvenile delinquency proceedings and some cases involving child support, among other matters. Tort and contract claims against the State of New York are heard in the Court of Claims.
The first appellate court of the State of New York is the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division. It is intermediate between the New York Supreme Court and the New York Court of Appeals.
There is one Appellate Division. For administrative purposes, there are four departments. Two or more counties are allocated to a department.
Decisions of the 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.
The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in each judicial department is authorized to establish "appellate terms". An appellate term is an intermediate appellate court that hears appeals from the inferior courts within their designated counties or judicial districts, and are intended to ease the workload on the Appellate Division and provide a less expensive forum closer to the people. Appellate terms are located in the First and Second Judicial Departments only. Appellate terms consist of between three and five justices of the Supreme Court, appointed by the Chief Administrative Judge with the approval of presiding justice of the appropriate appellate division, with two justices constituting a quorum and being necessary for a decision. Decisions by the Appellate Term must be followed by courts whose appeals lie to it.
In New York City, all felony cases are heard in criminal terms.
The Criminal Term of the Supreme Court, New York County is divided into 1 all purpose part, 15 conference and trial parts, 1 youth part, 1 narcotics/sci part, 1 felony waiver/sci part, 1 integrated domestic violence part, and 16 trial parts, which include 3 Judicial Diversion Parts and 1 Mental Health Part.
In November 2004, the court system merged the operations of two separate criminal courts—the Bronx County Criminal Court and the Criminal Term of Bronx County Supreme Court—into a single trial court of criminal jurisdiction known as the Bronx Criminal Division.
In New York City, all major civil cases are heard in civil terms.
For administrative purposes, the counties of the state are allocated to 13 judicial districts, with each of the five counties of New York City being in its own district. Counties with small populations share justices.
A judge of the New York Supreme Court is titled "justice".
Supreme Court justices are elected. Justices are nominated by judicial district nominating conventions, with judicial delegates themselves elected from assembly districts. Some (political party) county committees play a significant role in their judicial district conventions, for example restricting nomination to those candidates that receive approval from a party screening committee. In practice, most of the power of selecting justices belongs to local political party organizations. Sometimes, the parties cross-endorse each other's candidates, while at other times they do not and incumbent judges must actively campaign for re-election. Judicial conventions have also been criticized as opaque, brief and dominated by county party leaders. The process was challenged in litigation which ultimately resulted in a U.S. Supreme Court decision in N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres.
New York Supreme Court justices are elected to 14-year terms. A Supreme Court Justice's term ends, even if the 14-year term has not yet expired, at the end of the calendar year in which he reaches the age of 70. However, an elected Supreme Court Justice may obtain certification to continue in office, without having to be re-elected, for three two-year periods, until final retirement at the end of the year in which the Justice turns 76. These additional six years of service are available only for elected Supreme Court Justices, not for "Acting" Justices whose election or appointments were to lower courts.
In many counties, the number of New York Supreme Court justices is fewer than the number of needed justices. For that reason, judges of the New York City Civil Court, New York City Criminal Court, New York Family Court, and New York Court of Claims are designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices.
Notable past New York Supreme Court justices
- Henry Brockholst Livingston (1757–1823)
- Elijah Paine Jr
- Benjamin N. Cardozo (1870–1938)
- Gerald Garson (born 1938)
- Irving Lehman (1876–1945)
- Samuel Leibowitz (1893–1978)
- Edmund H. Lewis (1884–1972)
- Sol Wachtler (born 1930)
- Robert F. Wagner (1877–1953)
- John Carro (born 1927)
There are court houses for the New York Supreme Court throughout the state. In each county, one or more buildings serve as court houses.
Example 1: In Kings County, court rooms for civil actions, heard by the New York Supreme Court, are at 360 Adams Street, Brooklyn. Court rooms for criminal cases are at 320 Jay Street, Brooklyn.
Example 2: In Schoharie County, all court rooms for the New York Supreme Court are at 290 Main Street, Schoharie.
The oldest Supreme Court with general original jurisdiction is the New York Supreme Court. It was established on May 6, 1691, by the Colony of New York, as the Supreme Court of Judicature. That court was continued by the State of New York, when state independence was achieved in 1775. The original name, Supreme Court of Judicature, was changed to Supreme Court by the New York Constitutional Convention of 1846.
- The New York Supreme Court possesses the Deed of Gift of the America's Cup, a document written by George L. Schuyler. The Deed of Gift sets forth the rules for America’s Cup races, including how races are run and how challenges are raised. A dispute about acts and omissions governed by the Deed of Gift is heard by the New York Supreme Court.
- The inscription on the facade of the New York Supreme Court court house in New York County is a quotation from a letter written by George Washington to the Attorney General in 1789: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government." On February 16, 2009, the New York Post reported that the word "true" was actually penned by Washington as "due", according to documents at the Library of Congress and the National Archives and Records Administration.
- Opinions of the New York trial courts are published selectively in the Miscellaneous Reports.
- State of New York Judiciary Budget: FY 2014-15 (PDF). p. 18.
- Stonecash, Jeffrey M. (2001). Governing New York State (4th ed.). SUNY Press. p. 172. ISBN 0-7914-4888-6. LCCN 00-032955.
- 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.
- Galie & Bopst 2012, p. 177.
- 28 NY Jur 2d, Courts and Judges § 220, at 274 
- Yellow Book of NY L.P. v. Dimilia, 188 Misc.2d 489, 729 N.Y.S.2d 286 (2001)
- "Supreme Court, Criminal Branch, New York County". New York State Office of Court Administration. Retrieved 28 November 2014.
- The Bronx Criminal Division: Merger After Five Years (PDF). New York State Unified Court System. October 2009. OCLC 491295164.
- Report on the Merger of the Bronx Supreme and Criminal Courts (PDF). Association of the Bar of the City of New York. June 2009.
- Judiciary Law § 140. "The state is hereby divided into thirteen judicial districts, pursuant to the provisions of the first section of the sixth article of the constitution, which districts shall be arranged as follows: The first judicial district shall consist of the county of New York; The second judicial district shall consist of the county of Kings; [...] The eleventh judicial district shall consist of the county of Queens. [...] The twelfth judicial district shall consist of the county of Bronx. [...] The thirteenth judicial district shall consist of the county of Richmond. [...]"
- Local Government Handbook (PDF) (6th ed.). New York State Department of State. 2009. p. 21.
- New York City Bar Association Council on Judicial Administration (March 2014). Judicial Selection Methods in the State of New York: A Guide to Understanding and Getting Involved in the Selection Process (PDF). New York City Bar Association. pp. 23–27.
- NYC Bar 2014, pp. 16-18.
- Williams, Milton L. (19 September 2012). "A better way to pick New York judges". New York Daily News.
- Bruce Golding (2009-02-16). "George Denied His Due". New York Post.
- Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 153.
- Gibson & Manz 2004, p. 151.
- Galie, Peter J.; Bopst, Christopher (2012). The New York State Constitution (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-986056-2. LCCN 2011051555.
- Lincoln, Charles Z. (1906). The Constitutional History of New York. Lawyers Co-operative Publishing. OCLC 1337955.
- "New York State Constitution". New York State Department of State.
- "The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York".