Contact: Andrew J. Rush
Director, Media Services & Public Affairs
arush@nysba.org
518/487-5530

September 11, 2007

STATE BAR PRESIDENT CALLS FOR CHANGES TO THE JUSTICE COURT SYSTEM

Highlights New Measures to Attract More Attorneys to the System

White Plains, NY - New York State Bar Association President Kathryn Grant Madigan of Binghamton (Levene Gouldin & Thompson LLP) today testified at a public hearing called by the Special Commission on the Future of the Courts about reforming the Town and Village Court System in New York State.

Since 2001, the Association has held the position that justices who preside over these courts should be attorneys.  In her testimony today, Madigan noted that while this is still the official position of the Association, in June 2007, in response to the New York Times series highlighting difficulties within the Town and Village Court System, and the request for more input from the Special Commission on the Future of the Courts, she created a Special Task Force on Town and Village Justice Courts to review the issue further.

"We face significant, yet not insurmountable challenges in reforming our Town and Village Justice Courts," Madigan said.  "Our Association can and must remain involved in the exploration of ways in which we can ensure that the current system operates at maximum efficiency and effort, fairly and impartially, consistent with the rule of law, while continuing to seek improvement."

Madigan continued, "We share a common goal - public confidence in our courts. For the citizens of our state to be confident that justice is served in all of New York's courts, we must first ensure public confidence in our 'courts closest to the people' -- our town and village justice courts."

In her testimony today, Madigan noted that many non-attorney justices serving our town and village justice courts are committed to doing a good job, however, more training, resources, and oversight are still needed to prevent incidents like those reported last year's the New York Times series.  She also testified that new efforts must be made to increase the number of lawyer-justices presiding in these courts.

According to Madigan, the New York State Bar Association is considering endorsing recommendations from the Special Task Force which would encourage more attorneys to run for these positions.  These recommendations include:
 
• Easing residency restrictions so that a town or village justice need only reside in the county of their jurisdiction, rather than reside within the locality they serve;
• Easing the restrictions on practice to the greatest extent possible while maintaining the highest principles of judicial conduct; and
• Developing a mechanism to enable municipalities to adequately compensate justices.

Madigan also testified that the Special Task Force she appointed in June, chaired by Patricia Salkin, has set forth recommendations for the practical implementation of the Association's position that all justices must also be attorneys.  All of the proposed recommendations of the Task Force will be voted on in November.

Madigan concluded by stating that the Association supports the Office of Court Administration's recommendations calling for upgrades and access to technology; improved court facilities and enhanced security; and the additional training of justices.  She also said that the State Bar supports making use of untapped resources, including the vast experience of our retired senior attorneys and judges who can provide a wealth of expertise and immeasurable benefit to town and village justices.

The 72,000 member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. Founded in 1876, NYSBA programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.

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