9.25.2006

New York Times Explores New York State Town and Village Courts

The New York Times this morning unveiled the first part of the three part series, entitled Broken Bench, about "the life and history of New York State's Town and Village Courts."

The first installment details the lack of regulations and abuses within these small community courts. Many of the violations they uncovered are pretty egregious.They have an audio slide show showing the interiors and exteriors of town courts across the state.

I'm at work right now, but I will be picking away at this rather extensive article throughout the day, and amending to this post. You can read the first installment here: In Tiny Courts of New York, Abuses of Law and Power.

Posted by Natalie

Update: I feel as though this series demonstrates precisely why we need an Upstate Magazine. While our many of our local papers provide excellent investigative reports on local issues, there is nothing in place to explore Upstate issues in depth (as NYCO recently lamented in her article about Upstate's media problem.) We should have a framework and an outlet in place to do this kind of investigation, rather than having the New York Times do it for us. Not that I'm complaining about the Times, oh no. The article is fascinating.

A question that I have about the situation, which will perhaps be addressed in the future parts of the series, is whether or not having better educated justices would significantly curb abuses. Clearly some of the examples they cite are mistakes as the result of a lack of knowledge, but the article also touches on some knowing judicial and fiscal abuses that may not be cured simply by people with better knowledge. Are most of these mistakes made out of ignorance, willfull ignorance, or just plain malice and greed?

Also, would Upstate's small communities benefit from the professionalization of town justices? Assuming for the moment that funding for full time, or even reasonably paid part time, justice positions were avialable to attract those with background in the law, the people filling those positions wouldn't necessarily be members of the community.

Neither of these questions are arguments for keeping the system the way it is. To the contrary, I think the town justice system, like many of the other legal and political frameworks in New York State, could stand to be overhauled. But senstitively overhauled. Throwing money at the problem might change things, but it probably won't help.

On a local note, Dick Griffiths, Red Hook town justice, who was the head of my college's Buildings and Grounds department for over forty years passed away this weekend after a long battle with leukemia. I saw him speak at the debate for last years town elections, and while he was clearly not as smooth an orator as his opponent (a lawyer) he seemed like a very genuine man who had years of experience and the community's best interest at heart. He was re-elected. And he will be missed.

The first article ends with an invective to "the next governor" for reform to the system. Stay tuned for Part II and Part III of the New York Times article, and commentary from your friendly neighborhood York Staters. Further commentary and reaction can be found at NYCO's blog and at Sui Generis.

1 comment:

todd said...

As a lawyer practicing in many local courts, I applaud the article for shining some light. The good outnumber the bad, but attention is necessary to result in more training for judges and more justice for parties appearing in the courts.