Reform Needed for NYC Court System
By W. Taharka Robinson
In previous articles written we have learned that the New York office of court administration is in need of restructuring, since the last article the New York office of court administration has begun to change the structure. We’ve discussed the structure of the office of court administration and how the courts function. We reported that the Civil Court, the Criminal Court, the Housing Court, and the Family Court are considered the poor peoples’ courts and they needed to be overhauled and the administrative structure of the office of court administration needed to be changed.
African American Carolyn Walker Diallo is now the administrative judge for the New York City civil court, meaning that she is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the civil court in New York City. Judge Diallo was formerly the supervising judge in Kings County civil court and as an administrator, knows what needs to be done to reform the civil court.
Judge Edwina Mendelson has been appointed the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives. In October of 2020 a report was issued by special advisor Jeh Johnson on equal justice in the New York State Courts. In response to this report, the Office of Court Administration has appointed Judge Mendelson to lead the Equal Justice in Courts Initiative and the Office of Court Administration Office of Policy Planning.
Yes, there are changes being made, however these changes are not enough. We must have judicial redistricting. On Tuesday November 2nd, there will be 5 proposals on the ballot and one of the ballot proposals that concerns me most is proposal number five that would increase the jurisdiction of the New York City Civil Court. The purpose of this proposal is to change Article 6 Section 15 of the New York constitution to increase the jurisdiction of the New York City Civil Court, which is currently limited to hearing and deciding claims up to $25,000. This proposed amendment would allow the York City Civil Court to hear and decide claims for $50,000 or less.
I would vote no on this proposition because the civil court of the city of New York consists of three parts, Civil, Housing, and Small Claims.
General civil cases include matters where parties are seeking monetary relief up to $25,000 and the housing part covers landlord and tenant matters in cases involving maintenance of household standards. The Small Claims Part has cases where parties are seeking monetary relief up to $10,000. This proposal may place an additional burden on the New York City Civil Court by increasing the numbers of cases they may receive.
If Judicial redistricting was conducted this proposal on the ballot would not even be there. In speaking with an attorney, I was able to acquire an in-depth understanding of how dysfunctional the courts in New York really are. Michael T. Mullen, a prominent criminal defense attorney in Kings County, stated, “The criminal court in Kings County lacks the resources and personnel to adequately address the needs of individuals mostly from communities of color. There is a lack of intervention and serious lack of trust from those entering the courts. The majority of individuals from court officers, court clerks, and judges do not look like them. If there is ever going to be judicial reform, we must conduct judicial redistricting.