Campaign for Court Simplification
An Invitation to Join the Statewide Coalition for Court Simplification
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.
The Fund for Modern Courts supports simplifying our state’s trial court system to make it more efficient, effective and accessible. The current court structure is too costly, confusing, and discourages and impedes litigants, both private citizens and business, from pursuing their rights. Consolidating the eleven courts of records into a more simplified system is long overdue. Greater efficiencies achieved through court restructuring would return the focus back to the administration of justice, where it belongs. Public confidence would be restored to a system that has long been viewed in the public eye as insurmountable, and a new, simplified structure would promote public understanding about how the court system operates.
Court simplification will:
- Remove procedural and jurisdictional obstacles associated with a multi-layered trial court structure, to reduce the cost and time of litigation.
- Simplify the trial court structure by reducing the number of courts and thereby make it more accessible and easier to understand for the public and the Bar.
- Ease the difficulties experienced by children and families in family-related litigation (e.g., cases involving divorce, child custody and support, family offense), while promoting greater fairness and consistency of result.
- Consolidate the State’s lower courts and expand their powers, enabling them to better serve local communities. (This amendment would not affect Town and Village Justice Courts.)
- Insure a more appropriate distribution of resources to the various courts, especially those that handle family matters.
- Greatly broaden the pool of judges that can be appointed to the Appellate Courts.
The simplification of the NYS court system as described above is the best outcome. Establishing one court, however, to address all Family-related issues without restructuring the entire Court System would also provide significant relief to the system and litigants.
The 2016 Report of the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, recommended that court simplification be implemented to consolidate jurisdiction for all family-related matters in one court.
- Families have to litigate their related matters in multiple courts—most typically, Supreme Court for matrimonial matters and Family Court for child custody and visitation.
- There is potential for conflicting determinations by judges when aspects of the related cases are handled by other judges in other courts.
- Numerous appearances in different courts force litigants to miss more work.
- Litigants with disabilities face additional and often insurmountable challenges related to travel and access; some reportedly have to abandoned their litigation because of these challenges.
- Court simplification would allow for assignment of counsel at the earliest possible stage.
- Court simplification would provide all families with access to the numerous services and resources that are currently only available in Family Court.