The Fund For Modern Courts

blind-justice-300The Fund for Modern Courts is an independent, statewide court reform organization committed to improving the judicial system for all New Yorkers. The Fund for Modern Courts was founded in 1955  by concerned citizens, prominent lawyers, and business leaders. Modern Courts strives to improve the administration and quality of justice in our courts. By building relationships with legal service and advocacy organizations, community members, bar associations and state and local governments, Modern Courts works with those who want to ensure an independent, diverse and highly qualified judiciary and provide equal access to justice for all New Yorkers.

It is the only organization in New York State devoted exclusively to improving the judicial system.


An Independent Judiciary is Essential to the Rule of Law

The Fund for Modern Courts believes that the President’s recent unjust criticism of a federal district court judge and his disparaging comments about the review by the United States Court of Appeals  both weakens the public’s confidence in the judiciary and undermines the rule of law. This disrespect for a co-equal branch of government threatens the constitutional principles of our democracy.

An independent judiciary is essential to the rule of law, and while Modern Courts takes no position on the legal arguments asserted in this matter, we cannot stand silent about this attempt to undermine the legitimacy of a federal judge, his decision, and the appellate process.

Tradition and ethical considerations prevent judges from defending themselves from attacks, even baseless ones, about matters that are before them. Therefore, such defense must be made by all Americans who respect the Constitution, acknowledge the concept of the separation of powers and believe that we are a nation of laws, not of individuals.

Although the Fund for Modern Courts was founded and works to improve the administration of justice in New York State, we are concerned that the recent unjust criticism by the President will encourage others to engage in the same type of conduct in our state’s courts.

We suggest that the President consider the remarks made by Chief Justice John Roberts, in his 2016 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary about the importance of federal district courts judges: “they deserve tremendous respect” and they serve “as the calm central presence to ensure fair process and justice for the litigants.” We stand with the Chief Justice in recognizing that “each American generation has produced selfless, patriotic, and brave individuals who have stepped forward to serve their country with distinction as federal district judges. Our Nation is justly proud of our current district judges and grateful for their service.”

Modern Courts calls upon the President to treat the judiciary with the respect that it deserves and to cease making unjustified criticisms of individual judges and the judiciary as an institution.


December 2016 Modern Courts Releases Report

Achieving a Consistent and Legally Sound U Visa Certification Process in New York Family Courts

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December 19, 2016, New York, NY – The Fund for Modern Courts today released a report entitled, Achieving a Consistent and Legally Sound U Visa Certification Process in New York Family Courts, which finds there is significant confusion within New York’s Family Court regarding the U Nonimmigrant Status (“U Visa”) certification process. The report clarifies existing applicable law and recommends ways to alleviate confusion and ensure a more consistent and predictable process for U Visa certification in the Family Court.

Family Court judges in New York State play a crucial role as certifying officials for victims of crime seeking U Visas. Family Court is particularly important in the U Visa context because it has jurisdiction over family offense proceedings, a route often preferred over criminal prosecution by victims of abuse.

The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (“TVPA”) established the U Visa, and it was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes, while also protecting victims of crimes. The TVPA allows victims of certain crimes to seek U Nonimmigrant Status. Judges are authorized to certify that the crime victim has been “helpful” to law enforcement, which is a necessary component of a U Visa application.  Without a certification, an applicant will not be granted U Visa relief.

U Visa certifications are submitted to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) of the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) as part of the U Visa application.  DHS, not the Courts, makes the final determination whether to grant a U Visa.

Amelia T.R. Starr, Esq., Chair of the Fund for Modern Courts’ Executive Committee and a primary author of the report said, “We found that flawed practices and uninformed court and judicial personnel are causing the New York Family Court to turn away otherwise qualified U Visa applicants.”  For example, New York Family Court judges inconsistently and sometimes incorrectly manage the certifications of helpfulness required for U Visa relief. Federal law requires that the certifying official confirm the “helpfulness” of the victim by indicating that the applicant has knowledge of the criminal activity listed and “[h]as been, is being or is likely to be helpful in the investigation and/or prosecution” of the criminal activity.

As a result, Modern Courts issued this report to identify those flawed practices and make specific recommendations including: 

  • particularized training for judges and court personnel regarding the U Visa certifications;
  • the creation of a clear, easy-to-follow U Visa desk guide for Family Court judges, with the relevant statutes and regulations regarding U Visa certification, and clarifying the scope of judicial authority to certify, as well as the proper evidentiary bases for certification.

Denise Kronstadt, Esq., Deputy Executive Director and Director of Advocacy and Policy at the Fund for Modern Courts and co-author of the report, said, “access to equal justice is a priority for all New Yorkers. A recently formed group of immigration and family court experts, Immigrant Justice in State Courts, is dedicated to collaborating with legal advocates, the judiciary, and court administrators to identify ways that we can collectively bridge the gaps that exist with respect to the complex family-immigration law intersection. We are completing dynamic and new resource materials and training programs on immigration issues in the New York Family Courts, that we hope the court system will adopt for judges and have successfully advocated for an Advisory Council on Immigration Issues in Family Court.”

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Modern Courts Releases Citizens’ Court Monitoring Report on Dutchess County Family Court

Citizens’ Court Monitoring Report Dutchess County Family Court

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Listen to an interview with Dennis R. Hawkins, Executive Director of Modern Courts; and others on the history and the powerful role party politics has on selecting New York State judges.

‘Smoke-Filled Rooms’ Still Rule New York Judicial Elections

WNYC Series on Judicial Elections by Kat Aaron


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The new Chief Judge of the State of New York, the Hon. Janet DiFiore, announced an Excellence. As stated on the Office of Court Administration website, “Chief Judge DiFiore wants to hear from members of the public, judges, jurors, litigants, attorneys and court employees. The Excellence Initiative involves a detailed and comprehensive evaluation of current court processes and procedures to determine what is working well and what needs to be improved.”

Modern Courts discussed this important initiative with the Office of Court Administration and offered to survey our various email lists, coalitions, board members, business groups, good government groups, law schools, Bar Associations and others – to provide more input for the Chief Judge’s initiative.

Here is the link:
Excellence Initiative Survey for the Courts

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