New York State has the most complicated court system in the US

And, possibly, the most complicated court system in the world. For example:

  • There are 11 trial courts in New York State, but only one in California, which has twice the population as us.
  • Divorces are judged by the Supreme Court, but all other related matters such as child custody, domestic violence, maintenance of divorce agreements, etc. are done in Family Court. This means struggling families have to go to multiple courts (with the burden of taking multiple days off work and paying Supreme Court fees) during what is already the most difficult time in their lives.
  • There are many gray areas as to which courts judge which cases, often resulting in excess money and energy being expended administratively to get cases heard in the right location.
  • NYC and Upstate New York have different rules regarding judges sitting on other courts when there is a vacancy–we can streamline this system.

This is a complicated and intricate problem, but perhaps one of the most important ones facing New York. In short, here’s a side-by-side graphic of what our current court system looks like, and what the New York City Bar Association recommends we trim it to:


We need to make sure the court system is working effectively for the New York people, and efficiently with our tax dollars. This will be tough to do, though, without a Constitutional Convention or a constitutional amendment that massively overhauls the system. If you want more details, no one could say it better than the lawyers of New York who work in this system every day. Check out this publication from the NYC Bar Association, which explains in depth exactly what they’d advocate for if New York took the opportunity to hold a Constitutional Convention: Constitutional Conventions in New York: Past, Present, and Future

A 2007 study by The Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts, appointed by NY State Chief Judge Judith Kaye1 A Court System For The Future: The Promise of Court Restructuring in New York State, found that consolidating our court system in accordance with their detailed and well-organized plan would save an estimated $502 million every year. “Of this total, $443 million in annual savings would be realized by individual litigants, business litigants, employers, municipalities and others,” the report writes, with the remainder being saved within the court’s annual budget. When adjusted for inflation, that leaves us with over $600 million in annual savings in 2017.

So, for anyone who says a Constitutional Convention “won’t be worth the money,” consider this: a Con Con is estimated to cost just over $51 million, based on the cost of the 1967 Convention and adjusted for inflation.2 What’s a Constitutional Convention Cost? We Can’t Afford to Not Hold One Pace University has also put out a 2017 study addressing the costs of a convention in relation to the savings of reforming our court system3 The Road to a Constitutional Convention: Reforming the New York State Uni ed Court System and Expanding Access to Civil Justice, in which they reaffirm the New York City Bar Association’s assertion that the most truly effective way to fix this is in a Constitutional Convention.


References   [ + ]