New York state legislataors have begun considering changes to the vast network of town and village courts, the New York Times reports. At a hearing yesterday, some witnesses insisted that a drastic overhaul was long overdue; others said reforms already under way would suffice. District Attorney Michael Bongiorno of Rockland County described “jaw-dropping moments” of judicial incompetence in the New York City suburbs. He said some cases simply vanished in the local courts for lack of attention, that some justices did not know how to conduct trials, and that some committed crimes or violated ethical rules.
The state has 1,277 town and village courts, also known as justice courts. The courts, which date to the Colonial era, have been criticized for nearly a century as poorly supervised, inadequately funded, and sometimes hostile to constitutional rights. The State Senate plans a hearing next month, and top state court officials said they would begin an ambitious series of reforms. The plan included measures to double the justices' initial training to two weeks of classroom courses, to require the recording of court proceedings and to supervise the justices more closely. It did not deal with the issues that many critics see as the deepest flaws: that three-quarters of the justices are not lawyers and that even though the courts are part of the state judicial system, they are financed by the towns and villages.