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.
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Modern Courts is leading a coalition and campaign to Simplify the NYS Courts! With Support from the New York Community Trust we ask you to join us!
New York has perhaps the most complex and convoluted court system in the country. Over the last two hundred years, lawmakers have allowed this system – designed to serve a population a fraction the size of the current population – to develop haphazardly and with insufficient planning or oversight. The result is the current morass of eleven different trial courts and four unbalanced appellate divisions. This archaic and inconsistent structure is needlessly confusing. A Constitutional Amendment to bring the Court into the 21st century offers an opportunity for every population that uses the courts and provides for a more just, efficient, and equitable system.
From New York Community Trust Newsletter, “So-called “poor people’s courts”—Family Court, Criminal Court, and the housing part of Civil Court—serve mostly black and Latino and low-income litigants. Compared with other trial courts that deal with corporations and wealthier litigants, these venues are underfunded and overcrowded. The time is ripe for reform. New York State Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has committed to court simplification, and the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Judiciary Committees have followed her lead, creating an unprecedented opportunity to fix the system.”
NEW REPORT : April 2019
Fines and Fees and Jail Time in New York Town and Village Justice Courts – The Unseen Violation of Constitutional and State Law
New York, NY – The Fund for Modern Courts today released a report entitled, Fines and Fees and Jail Time in New York Town and Village Justice Courts: The Unseen Violation of Constitutional and State Law, which found that many town and village justice courts throughout New York ignore the law by issuing bench warrants and jail terms for defendants who are unable to pay fines and fees due to their poverty. As of 2019, there were approximately 1,300 town and village justice courts spread across New York State.
Amelia T.R. Starr, Esq., Vice Chair of the Fund for Modern Courts and one of the authors of the report, said, “Failure to pay the fines imposed by the justice courts can result in significant consequences for a defendant, including imprisonment until the fine is collected. Our report, which is based on extensive interviews, discussions and a state wide-survey, makes it clear that imprisonment for failure to pay fines is not limited to a few counties but stretches across New York.” …….
Campaign for Court Simplification
An Invitation to Join the Statewide Coalition for Court Simplification
Chief Judge Janet DiFiore’s call for modernizing the New York Court system during her 2019 State of Our Judiciary address (February 26, 2019) is a critical reform that must be accomplished if the Judiciary is to provide effective, efficient and fair justice for all New Yorkers.
The Chief Judge deserves much credit for her Excellence Initiative, which significantly has improved the administration and delivery of justice services over the past two years. Now she has identified a core problem that hampers and frustrates further reform – New York’s fragmented and outdated court organization structure. We believe her stated intent to encourage the State Legislature to work with her to secure passage of a constitutional amendment is essential to modernizing our courts.
New York has perhaps the most complex and convoluted court system in the country. Over the last two hundred years, lawmakers have allowed this system – designed to serve a population a fraction the size of the current population – to develop haphazardly and with insufficient planning or oversight. The result is the current morass of eleven different trial courts and four unbalanced appellate divisions. This archaic and inconsistent structure is needlessly confusing. A Constitutional Amendment to bring the Court into the 21 st century offers an opportunity for every population that uses the courts and provides for a more just, efficient, and equitable system.
The Fund for Modern Courts has established a Task Force on the Simplification of the New York State court system. Consolidating the eleven separate trial courts into a single court of first instance will streamline judicial operations, save money, help families and increase appellate level diversity. We support a passage of a Constitutional Amendment that would simplify the New York court system by creating a two-part structure, with a new Supreme Court — consisting of the current Supreme Court, County Court, Family Court, Surrogate’s Court and the Court of Claims, and a new District Court — consisting of the current District Courts on Long Island, the New York City Civil and Criminal Courts, and the City Courts outside of New York City.
We ask that you add your organization’s name to the newly formed Statewide Coalition for Court Simplification and work with a growing coalition of groups across the state to achieve this much needed goal.
Modern Courts’ 2018 Legislative Survey:
Overwhelming Support for Court Simplification
October 29, 2018
New York, NY – The Committee for Modern Courts released its NYS Legislative Survey Report today. The Survey: Modern Courts Survey of 2018 Legislative Candidates asked all candidates for the New York State Senate and Assembly would they support simplifying the State’s major trial courts into a two tier structure. Ninety-five per cent (95%) of those who responded answered in the affirmative.
Barry A. Bohrer, Chair of the Committee, said, “Modern Courts is encouraged that state legislative candidates overwhelmingly support simplifying the current state court structure, which discourages and impedes litigants, both private citizens and business, from pursuing their rights because it is too complex and confusing. Consolidating the eleven courts of record into a more simplified system will achieve greater efficiencies and improve the administration of justice.”
The survey contained 2 questions that focused on the structure of the state courts and the reorganization (simplification) of those courts. Modern Courts received 61 responses from those candidates for the 276 legislative seats – 213 Assembly seats and 63 Senate seats. Twenty candidates for the Senate responded as did 41 candidates for the Assembly.
Denise Kronstadt, Deputy Executive Director of Modern Courts, who conducted the survey said, “The broad support for courts simplification among both Republican and Democratic candidates, incumbents and challengers, demonstrates that progress can be made in the next legislative session to begin the process of simplifying the courts through a much needed constitution change.”
Simplifying the New York Court system would create a streamlined two-tier structure comprising a new Supreme Court (consisting of the current Supreme Court, County Court, Family Court, Surrogate’s Court and the Court of Claims) and a District Court system. The District Court would include the current District Courts on Long Island, the New York City Civil and Criminal Courts, and the City Courts outside New York City. There would be no change in the present Town and Village Justice courts.
For complete individual responses and details: Modern Courts 2018 Survey for Legislative Candidates on Court Simplification.
Modern Courts also asked if candidates would support court simplification for family matters, to consolidate jurisdiction for all family-related matters into one court, whether or not they supported consolidating the entire court system. Almost 98% of the candidates supported this proposition.
The Committee for Modern Courts is the lobbying and advocacy affiliate of the Fund for Modern Courts, a nonpartisan, nonprofit, statewide organization dedicated to improving the courts in New York State through public education and in-court programming. The Committee for Modern Courts does not endorse candidates for political office.
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
Modern Courts Report ICE and New York 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
Join Our Coalition for Court Simplification. Join Our Coalition for Court Simplification
Matters contained within the Judiciary Article (VI) of the Constitution still need improvement and may be accomplished without a Constitutional Convention.
Learn more about the Judiciary Article of the NYS Constitution.
Our ‘Immigrants and State Courts’ Website is Launched!
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.
Go to the Immigrants and State Courts website.
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.
Achieving a Consistent and Legally Sound U Visa Certification Process in New York Family Courts: A Follow-up to Modern Courts’ 2015 Report – 2016 Read more…
Modern Courts Releases Citizens’ Court Monitoring Report on Dutchess County Family Court
Citizens’ Court Monitoring Report 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.
WNYC Series on Judicial Elections by Kat Aaron