Define That Term #208
Surprising Headline of the Day

Spitzer Proposes Major Judicial Reform

As reported in this Buffalo Business First article, on April 26th, Governor Spitzer offered a judicial reform package that would substantially change the New York judicial system as we know it. Gavel

First, Supreme Court justices would no longer be elected, an issue that has been hotly debated ever since a U.S. District Court ruled that the current judicial nominating system was unconstitutional:

(T)he governor wants to be able to appoint justices of the Supreme Court, the lowest level of New York state court, to be chosen by regional judicial nominating commissions. Supreme Court judges are elected for 14-year terms...Under Spitzer's plan local judicial commissions would vet candidates and forward a list of potential justices to the governor, who would make the final selection. The same system is used to pick judges for the four Appellate Division courts.

The proposed reform goes even further than that, however, and suggests that a number of changes be implemented, including:

  • Consolidating the state's trial courts into a two-tiered statewide system
  • Increasing the number of Supreme Court judges
  • The creation of a fifth appellate court division
  • Allowing appellate division to be redrawn every ten years instead of being fixed
  • Increasing judicial salaries
    • Supreme Court judges would receive an annual salary of $162,100, and effective April 1, 2006, Supreme Court judges would get $165,200. Salaries of all other judicial officers would be based on a percentage of the salary set for Supreme Court Justices

Major changes are on the horizon should this reform package be enacted. Some of the proposed changes, such as increasing judicial salaries and adding more Supreme Court judges, make sense to me. 

But, I was somewhat surprised by the proposed changes regarding the addition of an appellate division and allowing the redistricting of the appellate divisions every ten years.  I haven't read anything that has indicated that the current set up is problematic, so it seems strange that the Governor wants to enact such extreme changes.  But, maybe I'm missing a piece of the puzzle.

Either way, I'm having a hard time envisioning the effect of all of these changes--particularly as they relate to the appellate divisions.  Would the overall effect be good, bad, or negligible? What do you think?

Comments

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Thomas Swartz

Nicole, excellent reporting on Spitzer's proposed judicial reforms. As a former employee of the Second Department, I can say that there has always been a disproportionate share of the appellate caseload in the Second Department. This is so because in addition to the populous counties of Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, the Second Department has had to deal with the growing suburban counties of Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, and some of the other growing upstate counties. Over time this has led to a disproportionate caseload in the Second Department. At one point when I was there, there was a two year delay between the time an appeal was filed and a decision was rendered. Although this is no longer the case, the caseload there remains a problem. So, I think the creation of a Fifth Department is a good idea. It just depends on how they carve up the counties to create the new Department.

NBlack

Thanks for the very helpful insight. Spitzer's proposals re: the Appellate Divisions makes more sense to me now.

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