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#25: The Unified Court System, Part 6 of 6: The Oddities

November 25, 2011

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No one likes being called an oddity and I am sure these courts are no different. However, they are odd insofar as they are both unique and not readily defined as courts. Some are actually quite new to the court system.


15. Drug Treatment Courts

These "courts" are also called Drug Courts. They exist in every county of the state and their purpose is to rehabilitate drug addicts who have been charged with various non-violent criminal offenses. These courts are not your typical adversarial proceedings. Instead, there is a "team approach" to those individuals who have voluntarily entered the court (by signing a contract). The team most often consists of the judge of the Drug Treatment Court, attorneys appointed to the court, Department of Social Services caseworkers, Probation personnel, various treatment providers, counselors, and, sometimes, personnel from the District Attorney's Office.

Normally, I advise my clients to steer well clear of this "court" if they are able to. Why? Because it may not be for every client and because "the law" basically does not apply in this court. "The law" is really whatever the court decides it is, relative to each participant. This court micro-manages the lives of those voluntarily within its jurisdiction. This court will direct what medications you are able to take, where you can live, with whom you are able to live, and what employment you are required to engage in and when. And you will be subjected to very frequent and random drug testing, usually in the form of urinalysis. And it can take as long as two (2) or more years to "graduate" from Drug Treatment Court. It is very much like a civilian form of boot camp. It attempts to break drug addicts of their addictions and rebuild their lives, re-integrating them into society as constructive and productive, law-abiding citizens.

Continue reading "#25: The Unified Court System, Part 6 of 6: The Oddities" »

#23: The Unified Court System, Part 5 of 6: The Court of Appeals

November 25, 2011

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Not many courts left. It's the home stretch. What remains is a single court of overwhelming significance to us all and several small courts of overwhelming significance to a select few. One governs the general course of the lives of every citizen of the state of New York, while the others govern the day-to-day existence of those citizens who find themselves, usually through their own poor choices, under the court's direct supervision.


14. The Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals is the end of the line in the state court system. There is no higher court. Appeals come directly from the four (4) judicial departments of the Appellate Division, in most instances. From this court are issued some of the most comprehensive decisions that determine how we, as citizens of this state, live out our lives.

This court has seven (7) judges appointed by the governor for fourteen (14) year terms.

The courthouse is located in Albany, New York.

The decisions handed down by the Court of Appeals are few (compared to the volume found in the Appellate Division) and they are often extremely dense and very difficult to read and understand. I find that I have to read Court of Appeals decisions several times before I can begin to understand what I think the court is trying to convey.

Continue reading "#23: The Unified Court System, Part 5 of 6: The Court of Appeals" »

#19: The Unified Court System, Part 4 of 6: The Appellate Division

November 21, 2011

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Finally, we reach what I consider to be the most interesting part of the Unified Court System: the Appellate Division - where the overwhelming majority of the caselaw is made in the state of New York. In fact, one of the primary purposes of this legal blog is to monitor and review the various decisions issued by the four (4) appellate courts, specifically of the Third Department, where I live and practice.


13. The Appellate Division

The Appellate Division is the collective name given to the appellate courts established through Article 6, Section 4 of the constitution of the state of New York. The constitution divides the state into four (4) judicial departments.

The first judicial department, known as the First Department, consists of the counties within the first judicial district. The First Department consists of seven (7) justices of the Supreme Court, of which no more than five (5) may preside in any given case. There are only two (2) counties within the First Department, all of them Downstate and in New York City.

Continue reading "#19: The Unified Court System, Part 4 of 6: The Appellate Division" »

#17: The Unified Court System, Part 3 of 6: The Five Unique Courts

November 19, 2011

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Continuing our introduction to the fourteen (14) different kinds of courts in the state of New York, the next five (5) courts are unique insofar as they are only particular to a certain part of the state.


8. District Courts

There are only two (2) District Courts in the entire state, both in the Second Department, on Long Island: one in Nassau County, covering the entire county, and one in the western part of Suffolk County. The implementing legislation that establishes the procedures found in the district courts is the Uniform District Court Act. The court's procedures are governed by Part 212 of the Uniform Rules of Trial Courts (22 N.Y.C.R.R. 212).

District Courts have monetary jurisdiction up to $15,000.00. Furthermore, at least in Nassau County and the western part of Suffolk County, Small Claims Courts are found in the District Courts and not in the town, village, and city courts. The monetary jurisdiction of the small claims part is up to $5,000.00. Actions involving money claims for $6,000.00 or less may be subject to compulsory arbitration, pursuant to CPLR ยง3405. In almost all circumstances, service of process is limited to the county in which the District Court is found.

District Courts have criminal jurisdiction over traffic infractions, violations, misdemeanors, and pre-indictment felonies.

Attorneys are elected to serve as judges on the District Court for a term of six (6) years.

Appeals go to the County Court unless an Appellate Term exists. Since the two (2) District Courts are located in the Second Department, and the Second Department has an Appellate Term, all appeals go to the Appellate Term.

An interesting aspect of this particular court is that it can theoretically be established throughout the state of New York, but only by local referendum, pursuant to the state's constitution.

Continue reading "#17: The Unified Court System, Part 3 of 6: The Five Unique Courts" »

#15: The Unified Court System, Part 2 of 6: The Four "County Courts"

November 17, 2011

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While these four (4) courts are not "county courts", they are nonetheless found in every county of the state - with the exception of County Court, ironically enough. They are most often found together in the same building or complex of buildings. These four courts are the workhorses of the Unified Court System, and they are where the majority of litigation takes place in New York. By the time most people reach middle age, they have probably dealt with at least one - or possibly all - of these courts. These courts are very much a part of the fabric of American life today, and it is an honor and a privilege to be able to practice law in them.

County Court is often seen as The Criminal Court - despite having substantial civil jurisdiction. Family Court is often considered the most people-friendly court as it requires no fees for filing petitions (unlike the other courts) and it handles many - but by no means all - matters concerning families. Supreme Court is perceived as a commercial court - yet divorce actions are brought there as well. And Surrogate's Court is viewed as Dead Persons' Court - though adoptions are often held there.

I think you will find that the Unified Court System is unified in name only.

Continue reading "#15: The Unified Court System, Part 2 of 6: The Four "County Courts"" »

#13: The Unified Court System, Part 1 of 6: The Three Smallest Courts

November 14, 2011

13 Post Depositphotos_4517444_XS.jpgPerhaps some introductions are in order with regard to the at least eighteen (18) different kinds of courts in the state of New York. Believe it or not, there is some method to the madness of the structure of the court system in this state, otherwise known as the Unified Court System.

The smallest courts are those of the various municipalities of the state of New York, namely the 932 towns, the 555 villages, and the sixty-two (62) cities. However, New York City is so huge, it has its own massive court to itself (actually - two of them!).

Also, as regards all of the blog posts in this particular series - and in fact the entire blog itself - my primary reference source is The Attorney's Bible - New York Practice, Fourth Edition, by the esteemed and accomplished David D. Siegel, Distinguished Professor of Law at Albany Law School of Union University. If you practice law in New York, you probably own several of the editions of this book. If you are an attorney and you do not own this book, you are probably committing malpractice. What this blog merely glosses over, this book covers with a depth and breadth and precision that is a marvel to behold. And the last time I checked, you can pick up a copy on Amazon for about $50.00. And I assure you that it'll be the most worthwhile $50.00 you ever spend.

Another fantastic reference source is none other than the collected laws of the state of New York, as found in what are commonly referred to as the McKinney's Statutes, published by Thomson West.

Attorneys are said to "read the law". When we do, these two sources are what we read the most.

Continue reading "#13: The Unified Court System, Part 1 of 6: The Three Smallest Courts" »

#9: Bring A Novel ... Perhaps 'War And Peace'

October 26, 2011

9 Post 2011-10-26 Depositphotos_2919051_XS.jpgAnother big question I am often asked by clients is this: "How long is the court appearance going to take?" There is no hard and fast answer to this question and I have stopped trying to answer it, because Murphy's Law applies therein. If I say "not long", it's long. If I say "long", it's not long. The answer, as you have probably come to expect is ... it depends. And it depends on a great many things, not least of which is the court's very own calendar.

When I started as an brand new attorney, I was always amazed at how much the various courts differed from one another - and even among themselves - on a day-to-day basis. You could never predict, with any real degree of accuracy, just how long any given court appearance could take in a given court. And that made managing your own calendar extremely frustrating. Clients want answers and it isn't fun when the answer is "I don't know".

I have had instances where what I thought was going to be a short and simple court appearance turned into an all-day affair. Conversely, I've also had instances where what I thought would be a convoluted and tortuous court appearance turned out to be but a blip on the court's radar that was quickly and cursorily dealt with. Both times I was left shaking my head in bemusement.

So, the safe answer is, as always: it depends. Sorry, but that is really the only answer to this particular question.

As it turns out, the answer turns on at least ten (10) distinct factors:

The first and most important factor is attorney preparedness;

The second, and equally important, factor is the presiding judge;

The third factor is how a given court manages its calendar;

The fourth factor is "overbooking";

The fifth factor is "hat wearing";

The sixth factor is punctuality;

The seventh factor is emergencies;

The eighth factor is parking;

The ninth factor is "judicial sclerosis";

And the tenth factor is the unexpected (as in the Spanish Inquisition!).

Continue reading "#9: Bring A Novel ... Perhaps 'War And Peace'" »