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ADVOCACY FOR A judical court system


judicial court system

judicial court system: History of League Activity

The NYS League of Women Voters has had a long-standing advocacy position on court restructuring (formerly called court merger). The current system of 9 separate trial courts is confusing to litigants and costly to everyone involved in the courts: litigants, taxpayers, and the court system itself. Consolidation of the state’s trial courts requires a constitutional amendment, which needs passage by two separately elected legislatures, followed by an affirmative vote in the November general election. Traditionally, constitutional amendments receive first passage in the second year of the legislative session, followed by second passage of the newly elected legislature the following year. They then appear on the November ballot for voter approval. A court merger constitutional amendment actually received first passage in 1986, but was not passed by the legislature the following year, and it died before reaching the voters.

Efforts to restructure the current inefficient and costly system received new energy, when Chief Judge Judith Kaye appointed the “Commission on the Future of the Courts”. The commission’s recommendations to simplify the court structure into a two-tier system were introduced as a Governor’s program bill by the Senate Judiciary Chair in the spring of 2007. Unfortunately, no action was taken in 2008, the second year of the legislative session, which would have been the opportune time for first passage of a constitutional amendment, such as court restructuring. It was the year when Governor Spitzer resigned and the state began to see increasing fiscal pressures. In addition, Chief Judge Judith Kaye retired at the end of 2008, having reached her mandatory retirement age.

In 2009, no new efforts were made to address the need for restructuring via a constitutional amendment. The current Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, has not yet addressed the issue or advocated for it. Even though some of the most burdensome problems litigants face in the fractured courts have been addressed by administrative measures, e.g. the Integrated Domestic Violence Courts which can deal with all aspects of a case in one court, before one judge, or the other specialty ―problem-solving‖ courts, such as drug and mental health courts, a restructuring constitutional amendment continues to be the desirable long-term solution. Successful passage of such a constitutional amendment would help redistribute resources in favor of the most over-burdened courts, especially the Family Courts.

Although dealing with society‘s most pressing needs and the well-being of children, the current system still treats the Family Court like a ―step child‖, while the Supreme Court fares much better in allocated resources and staff compensation. Given the fact that New York State Chief Judge Lippman continued to omit any reference to court restructuring in his 2012 State of the Courts address, we anticipate no efforts to move forward with court restructuring. However, we continue to work with the Fund for Modern Courts on the issue.

Judicial court system: Summary of Current Action

The League is unaware of current plans within the Legislature to move forward on the court restructuring issue.

The League will continue to advocate for change, as opportunities arise, both    individually and with its coalition partners such as the Fund for Modern Courts.

judicial court system: League Position
  • For the complete League position on court restructuring and a full history of action taken under this position, see Judicial Courtl.

transparency: Archived Materials

Contact the League Office to request archived materials.

judical court system: legal services for the indigent

legal services for the indigent:
Criminal Legal Services & Civil Legal Services


legal services for the indigent: History of League Activity

The League believes that indigent criminal defendants and indigent civil litigants are entitled to legal services at no cost to them in order to provide them with access to the third arm of government – the judiciary.  The League has worked to improve the quality of and funding for such services.  It has also advocated for an Independent Public Defense Commission to protect constitutionally and statutorily required legal services from control by those with conflicting interests and to provide a single, accountable entity to which any and all concerned groups could turn when quality representation is not met. The commission would act as a conduit for transmitting state funds to localities that meet its standards.

In 2010, the state enacted the Legislature passed a public defense reform bill as part of the Public Protection budget. The bill did not create the Independent Public Defense Commission sought by the League; However, it did create an Office of Indigent Legal Services and an Indigent Legal Services Board in the Executive Branch to monitor, study, and make efforts to improve the quality of services provided under County Law article 18-B, relating to public defenders, legal aid offices, assigned counsel, conflict offices, and representation in Family Court.

The full budget bill can be accessed from the NYS Assembly website. Search for 2010 bill number A09706C, then look for Part E.

legal services for the indigent: Summary of Current Action

The League is unaware of current plans within the Legislature to move forward on the court restructuring issue.

The League will continue to educate the public about this issue in two ways:

  • Providing Speakers: First, it will provide speakers to local Leagues and outside organizations.   Contact the state League office to arrange a speaker.
  • Court Watching Programs: Second, the League organizes court watching / monitoring projects in the various counties throughout the state. Getting an inside view of how the courts function serves as an eye opener to recognize the needs and the shortcomings of the current system.  For help in arranging a program in your area, contact the state League office.

The League will continue to advocate for change, as opportunities arise, both    individually and with its coalition partners such as the Fund for Modern Courts.

legal services for the indigent: League Position
  • For the complete League position on court restructuring and a full history of action taken under this position, see Judicial Courtl.

transparency: Archived Materials

Contact the League Office to request archived materials.