New York’s Medieval Justice
SEPTEMBER 26, 2006
Serious abuses occur daily in small-town courts throughout New York State that practice dark-ages justice led by judges with no formal education and little knowledge or regard for the law.
A lengthy newspaper expose details how New York’s town and village courts regularly violate basic rights and often close their doors to the public. The incompetent judges are not lawyers but rather truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers with little knowledge of even the most basic legal principles.
The 1,250 town and village courts have nearly 2,000 part-time justices that serve from the suburbs of New York City to the farm towns of Niagara Falls. The courts are officially part of the state court system and the State Commission on Judicial Conduct is responsible for disciplining the outlaw judges but seldom does.
Cases of wrongdoing are rampant and include a Montgomery County judge who closed his court to the public and let prosecutors run proceedings for two decades, a Westchester County judge who warned police not to arrest his political buddies for driving drunk and a Delaware County judge who had been convicted of having sex with a mentally retarded woman in his care.
Perhaps one longtime judge, a phone-company repairman, in the tiny town of Dannemora helped summarize the sentiment among his peers in the small courts when he said “I just follow my own common sense and the hell with the law.”
Incredibly enough, New York is one of 30 states that still use this outdated and seldom regulated local court system that was originally created to keep peace in the Colonial days when lawyers were scarce. Justices are not screened for competence, knowledge of law, temperament or even reading ability. They are simply elected and usually keep their often tainted records from going public. One longtime prosecutor calls it a “closed door, back of someone’s house, in the barn, in the highway department, no record” justice system.
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