New York’s top judicial officials outlined a plan today to begin revamping the state’s 300-year old system of town and village courts, which have been criticized for decades as outmoded, unsupervised and unfair.
The plan, announced here by the state’s chief judge, Judith S. Kaye, included some measures that critics of the courts have been recommending for years. Among them is a plan to require that the local courts — known as justice courts — begin keeping a word-for-word record of their proceedings, as every other court in the state does.
The justice courts are a sprawling system of more than 1,200 courts that are often the first — and frequently the only — stop in the legal system for cases outside New York City. Dating from Colonial times, the courts occupy something of a time warp, with justices who are often poorly trained, who may hold hearings in firehouses, town highway garages or their own kitchens, and who dispense a form of justice unlike any other in the state.
The judiciary’s plan also outlined steps to increase training for the justices, to overhaul their testing, and to provide the courts with computers, which many now lack. The officials said they would begin a new program to monitor compliance with constitutional guarantees of the right to legal counsel, to require annual audits of each justice court’s books, and to increase the court system’s supervision of the courts.