The 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.
Modern Courts releases Report on ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and New York Courts
Protecting the Administration of Justice in New York State: Impact of ICE Arrests on New Yorkers’ Access to State Courthouses
Press Release : New York, NY – The Fund for Modern Courts today released a report entitled, Protecting the Administration of Justice in New York State: Impact of ICE Arrests on New Yorkers’ Access to State Courthouses, which proposes four new policies and protocols to ameliorate the significant increase of enforcement actions by U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement (“ICE”) in state courthouses and to ensure the proper administration of justice.
Amelia T.R. Starr, Esq., Vice Chair of the Fund for Modern Courts and one of the authors of the report, said, “Immigrants are intimidated by ICE’s deliberate decision to target New York’s courthouses for enforcement actions. They fear ICE retaliation at the courthouse steps. Every time fear of ICE keeps a New Yorker from entering the courthouse, access to justice is compromised.”
A recent statewide survey of 225 attorneys and statewide advocates in 31 counties who work with immigrants and their families in criminal, family, and civil courts conducted by the Immigrant Defense Project (“IDP”) illustrates the impact of ICE increased enforcement at courthouses. Three of out four reported that their clients have expressed fear of going to court because of ICE increased presence. Fear of ICE kept 29% of the respondent’s clients from appearing in court, 37% from pursuing an order of protection, and 48% from seeking custody or visitation rights. In addition, 46% expressed fear of serving as a complaining witness, and 56% expressed fear of filing a housing court complaint due to fear of ICE.
Denise Kronstadt, Esq., Deputy Executive Director and Director of Advocacy at the Fund for Modern Courts and co-author of the report, said, “It is our hope that by enacting and enforcing these policy changes, New York’s Unified Court System will provide all New Yorkers with a safe environment to pursue their legal rights within New York’s court system.”
This report proposes the following actions that the Unified Court system can and should take to address the negative impact on individuals and the courts resulting from ICE’s enforcement actions in courthouses:
- require judicial warrants for civil immigration law enforcement actions conducted in New York State courthouses;
- once informed of the presence of ICE and the intent to detain, require the presiding judicial officer to notify the targets of civil immigration law enforcement actions of the presence of agents who intend to detain them;
- the cooperation and assistance of court employees in civil immigration enforcement shall be limited to those actions required by law—specifically, supplying if asked, citizenship and immigration data; and
- reduce the frequency with which parties need to appear in court.
Ms. Starr said that, “[a]lthough these proposals may make it more difficult for ICE to arrest their targets, they target only at a particular point in an immigrant’s life: that vulnerable moment when an immigrant exercises her or his right to seek justice in a New York State courthouse. We believe these recommendations strike the appropriate balance between the needs of law enforcement and the necessity to ensure access to justice for all New Yorkers.”
Ms. Kronstadt noted that “Enforcement actions by New York police officers in New York courthouses require a warrant for that person’s arrest or reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct. In contrast, ICE agents do not need probable cause or reasonable suspicion to initiate a civil detainer. In many cases, the information used to decide whether to detain a person is outdated, and the detainer order only requires a signature from a supervisor, not a judicial officer.”
The report recognizes the efforts of the Chief Judge of the State of New York and the Chief Administrative Judge to deal with ICE enforcement in New York State courthouses. Senior judicial officials have met with Homeland Security officials to voice their concerns and to request that courthouses be designated as “sensitive locations” where ICE does not pursue enforcement actions except under limited circumstances. In addition, the Unified Court System in April issued a Policy and Protocol Governing Activities in Courthouses by Law Enforcement Agencies to address the matter. The recommendations in this report are intended to bolster the efforts the Unified Court System has already taken to deal with the harmful impact of ICE activity in courthouses.
Ms. Starr said, “ICE’s expanded immigration enforcement practices in New York State courthouses impact all noncitizens, whether they are documented or not, and may include anyone who enters the courthouses – victims of human trafficking, targets of domestic violence, witnesses, unaccompanied minors, those suffering from mental health and severe medical disabilities.”
Amending the Judiciary Article of the NYS Constitution
On Election Day (November 7, 2017), New Yorkers voted against holding a Constitutional Convention.
Matters contained within the Judiciary Article (VI) of the Constitution still need improvement and may be accomplished without a Constitutional Convention.
We have compiled a series of legal reference guides on the complex intersection of family court issues and federal immigration laws, policy, and enforcement.
These legal reference guides are created for all who use the courts. We focus on providing members of the NYS judiciary and court personnel with an accessible resource that presents the important role of state court judges. The materials are also useful for attorneys, community organizations, nonprofits, government agencies and the public.
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. Read more…
Modern Courts Releases Report : Achieving a Consistent and Legally Sound U Visa Certification Process in New York Family Courts
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.
Modern Courts Releases Citizens’ Court Monitoring Report on Dutchess County Family Court
‘Smoke-Filled Rooms’ Still Rule New York Judicial Elections
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.