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Basically, All The Town And Village Courts Are–Or Have Been–Is A Money Mill For Local Municipalities And Nothing Much More Than That!
To Even Call Them “Justice” Courts Is Scandalous; To Call Them Law Courts Is Even Worse Because Of The Ignorance Of The Law That Prevails In Those Courts.
But you don’t have to take my word for it, the New York Times has recently published a number of articles about New York state’s town and village courts and what the Times has to say about them ain’t pretty. Here are some titles: How a Reviled Court System Has Outlasted Critics, In Tiny Courts of N.Y., Abuses of Law and Power, Money Trail Often Murky in Small-Town Courts, Justice Courts for Small New York Towns to Be Overhauled, and many more! (If you’d like copies of the articles, just request them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
And don’t be surprised that your case may be decided by a mechanic, a highway department laborer, or the village idiot! And court may be held in a garage, as in the Town of Colchester, New York (photo), or in a double-wide trailer, as in Coeymans, New York.
Town and village “justice” courts play a local role in the New York State Unified Court System. Town and village courts have broad jurisdiction and they can hear both civil and minor criminal matters.
On the civil side, the town and village courts can hear actions seeking monetary awards up to $3,000 and small claims proceedings for awards up to $3,000. The court also handles landlord/tenant matters that may result in an eviction as well as a money judgment for back rent that is claimed due.
The Town Court also hears small claims proceedings intended to provide a low-cost, simplified and informal procedure for individuals to resolve disputes involving limited monetary claims. Often individual litigants do not use an attorney in these matters and are not required to do so, so they’re at the mercy of the brainless!
The police love them because they suck up anything the police feed them and accept anything as true that the police tell them; the attorney’s love them because they know how to let them have their power trips while manipulating them and stringing them along (they don’t have a clue about what the attorney’s are telling them but Who cares? It’s your dime! Pay the court or pay the attorney! All the justice money can buy!)
Town and Village Justices’ Ignorance Can and Do Actually Damage Lives and Reputations!
On the criminal side, the Town Court is authorized to handle matters involving the prosecution of violations and misdemeanors that are committed within the town’s geographic boundaries. The Town Court also conducts arraignments and preliminary hearings in felony matters. Town and village courts also hear Vehicle and Traffic Law infractions and misdemeanors. Now isn’t that a case of setting the foxes to guard the chickens?
By far the bulk of the town and village justice court’s load is traffic tickets; they have become collection agents for the municipalities and for the state and in some court’s the justices have become simply revenue collectors for the town or village…and that’s just about all they’re good for in most areas.
That would make sense, because like most town and village officials, they don’t have to be qualified for much at all and most have no education in law or court procedures, apart from a course designed for morons given by the New York State Unified Court System. Under current law, a justice need only be 18 years old and a resident of a town or village to be eligible to run for judicial office in that locality.
Not only do most town and village justices have no legal training, most have barely a high-school diploma, which is all they need to qualify to be a town or village justice. So our advice is: if you ever have to appear in town or village court, use really short words and don’t appear too smart, because you ain’t dealin’ with a rocket scientist!
Lawyers are pretty good to watch in town and village court because attorneys have little or no respect for most of the town or village justices; would you if you had to spend three years in law school, take a bar exam, then do several years at a law firm as a scud monkey? How would you feel if you had to kowtow to some barely literate dorkus who still smells of the shit he just finished shoveling before putting on the black robes to preside over the witch trials? Most of the town and village justices can hardly read, for chrisake!
While it is true that most judges, real judges, that is, must be trained as lawyers, it is also true that most are psychos or on power trips. That’s why in 1978 the state of New York created the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Rules of Judicial Conduct, making it possible for citizens to make complaints against justices and judges, because many of those lunatics in black robes are really, I mean REALLY, out of order!
Another important difference between town and village “justice” Courts and all other courts in NYS is that justice courts are not “courts of record.” This means that proceedings that take place in these courts have not been typically transcribed, word-for-word, by a court reporter. This can create problems if an appellate court is asked to review a decision made by a justice court judge. To some extent this issue is being addressed by the program that the state government is implementing to create digital recordings of all proceedings. As of early 2008 only a limited number of justice courts have been provided with the digital recording devices. My advice: Make certain your case is being recorded! You might need it if you find you want to make a complaint about the judge, the court staff, or the way the proceedings went.
According to testimony by Corey Stoughton, Staff Attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union testifying before the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Assembly:
“Ironically, the horror stories do not convey the true extent of the problem. The real story is that every day, across the state, the Town and Village Court system is failing to meet basic constitutional standards of justice. A year-long investigation by the New York Times uncovered not merely isolated examples of bad judging, but “overwhelming evidence that decade after decade and up to this day, people have often been denied fundamental legal rights. Defendants have been jailed illegally … . People have been denied the right to a trial, an impartial judge and the presumption of innocence.”
“Perhaps most alarming is the apparently widespread notion among Town and Village Court justices that they are there to make the law, not to adjudicate and apply it. News reports have quoted justices as describing their decisions as “down-to-earth solutions” and explaining that they have to use their own judgment because “the law is not always right.” The Spangenberg Report, created at the behest of the Kaye Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense, quotes another justice as saying that he “is concerned about good attitude regardless of what the law requires. Some people are given a break and some people with a bad attitude do not get a break.” This kind of misunderstanding of the role of a judge poses a fundamental threat to due process and equal protection of law.”
If you find testimony like that scary, you really ought to. It gets even scarier when you read some of the insanity that some of these judges and courts engage in! All you have to do is take a few minutes to go to the Commission on Judicial Conduct website and visit http://www.scjc.state.ny.us/Determinations/chronological.htm to read about some of the whackos the Commission has had to discipline. (It goes all the way back to 1978.)
Finally, our advice is: If you feel you have been abused in town or village court, if the court staff were disrespectful, if the judge was not respectful and courteous, if you felt the proceedings were conducted in an undignified manner or improperly, file a complaint! Even if you feel the court staff were rude or discourteous, they are the judge’s responsibility! Complain! If you know a judge who has behaved below the high standard we expect of public officials, especially police and judges, file a complaint! If you don’t know how, ask us by leaving a confidential comment below!
We’re giving particular attention to justices and judges in southern Albany county and northern Greene county, though any judge, court employee, or court is fair game.
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