Define That Term #147
"Platonic" Roommates Out of Luck

NY Justice Courts-Part 3

The final segment of the New York Times series of articles on the New York Village and Justice Courts can be found here.  This article focuses on the failed attempts to change a court system that is far from effective:

Although they are key institutions of justice in more than 1,000 small towns and suburbs across New York, trying misdemeanor cases and lawsuits, a vast majority of the justices who run them are not lawyers, and receive only a few days’ legal training. The justices are often elected in low-turnout races, keep few records and operate largely without supervision — leaving a long trail of injustices and mangled rulings.

Yet these justice courts, as they are known, remain essentially as they were when New Yorkers started complaining nearly a century ago...

One way to understand why a much-criticized institution has come to seem so entrenched is to revisit three big battles over the justice courts. In each, the people seeking to change the system tried in a different arena: the Legislature, the voting booths and the higher courts. And each time, their defeat was so stinging that it effectively killed any further discussion there...

In interviews, people who were deeply involved in these episodes — including political deal-making that took place out of public view and was never reported — pointed to a battery of forces that have doomed change: The powerful idea that communities should choose their own destinies, including their own judges. The considerable costs of updating courtrooms and hiring lawyers to preside. The always-popular calls to keep lawyers out of people’s lives. And, not least, the power of the justices, who are often important players in local politics, wired into the same party mechanisms that produce the state’s lawmakers, judges and governors.

The article ends on a somewhat depressing note, leaving the impression that things are not likely to change any time soon.  I wish I could say that I disagreed with that premise, but unfortunately I expect that things will remain as they are for years to come. 

I trust I'm not alone when I say that I think that the people of this state deserve better.


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Bill Altreuter

What was really horrible about the series for me was realizing how many of those courts I've been in over the years. Man, Justice and Town Courts are where knotty pine paneling goes to die.


I was in one with two friends somewhere between Albany and Oneonta. Would Cobleskill be the place maybe?? My friend got pulled over for speeding and apparently had some miniscule amount of pot in the trunk of his car. All of us were dragged into the clink for a while before my friend fessed up that the pot was his. Because they knew how much money we had (they vouchered it all before tossing us behind bars) when we went to the Judge's house (courtroom was one of the rooms) they fined us the exact amount that all 3 of us had. What an amzing coincidence, eh?

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