EDITORIAL: Time to reform state court system

Current system is complicated, inefficient, costly
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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

New York’s byzantine judiciary system is a mess, a giant complicated maze of cumbersome and overlapping courts and jurisdictions that’s costly for taxpayers and frustrating and confusing for the citizens it was designed to serve.

For families dealing with child custody issues, it might mean having their cases bounced back and forth between Supreme Court and Family Court, making a challenging situation even more stressful and difficult.

Accident victims re often forced to shuttle between different courts and judges to be compensated for their losses.

Litigation, which can be costly and time-consuming to both plaintiffs and defendants, is made worse by proceedings that can go on forever because of inefficiency and delays inherent in the current system.

Courts overwhelmed by growing caseloads due to not enough judges and staff contribute to delays and costs that disrupt lives — particularly for children, families and the indigent.

The New York state court system has a $2.3 billion annual budget that includes more than 3,600 paid state and local judges, 15,000 non-judge employees, more than 300 locations around the state and more than 3 million new cases each year.

For anyone who does business before the courts, including judges, attorneys, staff and citizens, the current system  simply doesn’t work anymore.

The judiciary system needs to be streamlined and simplified.

So when state lawmakers return to Albany in January, instead of continuing to ignore calls for an overhaul to the state court system, as they have done for decades, they should move ahead with a significant restructuring plan.

They can use as a starting point a proposal put forth earlier this week by Janet DiFiore, the state’s chief judge, to restructure and realign the court system.

The chief judge’s plan includes replacing the state’s 11 separate trial courts with a new three-level system that would be comprised of a centralized state Supreme Court, a Municipal Court, and the current town and village courts. Many of the state’s current trial courts would be eliminated and folded into a unified entity. 

An overhaul of the system would require amending the state constitution, which means any new system would have to pass two separate state Legislatures before it could go on the ballot for voters — a process that could take a few years. So it’s imperative that lawmakers begin meetings and hearings right away.

We don’t know whether DiFiore’s plan is the best plan. But it is reflective of past attempts to reform the system and provides a solid starting point for discussion and review.

Justice delayed is justice denied.

Reforms to New York’s judicial system have been delayed long enough.

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