Cost-Saving Ideas: Justice Court Consolidation in Villages and Towns
For some towns and villages, maintaining a justice court poses serious administrative and financial challenges. Justice courts hear civil, criminal, misdemeanor and traffic cases and are responsible for imposing and collecting a wide range of fines, surcharges and civil fees. Because the financing of justice courts is a local responsibility, a town or village may not have the resources to provide its citizens with a quality justice system.
In these cases, towns and villages should consider consolidating their justice courts. Benefits include:
- maximizing services by pooling resources
- streamlining the court system by centralizing services
- providing more qualified judges through increased competition
This guide provides a step-by-step breakdown of the process and outlines some of the relevant issues. If properly structured, consolidation can help increase the efficiency and effectiveness of justice courts without jeopardizing local court revenues or lessening access to justice.
Consolidation Process for Justice Courts in Villages
If a village has its own justice court, the village can abolish the office of village justice and defer all justice court matters to the town in which it’s located.
What needs to happen
The village board must abolish the office of village justice by local law or resolution, subject to permissive referendum. (Village Law Section 3-301[a])
The local law or resolution can only take effect, however, after the elected village justice has finished his or her current term. (Village Law Section 3-301; NY Const, art. VI, Section 17[d])
What you should know
As before, the village will still be entitled to revenue from:
- fines resulting from dog control violations and violations of village local laws other than speeding; and
- its share of the mandatory surcharge collected on handicapped parking violations (currently $15).
However, the village will no longer be entitled to revenue from fines imposed for:
- violations of Vehicle and Traffic Law that occur within the village (Vehicle and Traffic Law Section 1803); and
- criminal offenses that occur within the village.
Fines imposed by a town justice court for criminal offenses that occur within the village will now be the property of the town.
Consolidation Process for Justice Courts in Towns
Two or more towns that form a contiguous geographic area within the same county may establish a single justice court. This new court would be composed of justices elected from each town whose terms may not end during the same year.
(Uniform Justice Court Act, Section 106-a, as amended by Chapter 237 of the Laws of 2007)
What needs to happen
The process to establish a single court may be initiated by one of the following:
- Petition of Registered Voters
- Must be addressed to each town board
- Must be signed by at least 20 percent of the registered voters in each town
- Must be filed with the town clerk in each of the affected towns; one will receive the original petition, and the other town or towns will each receive a certified copy of the petition
- Town Board Resolution
- Must be adopted by one of the towns
- Must call for the reduction of the number of justices in the town and in one or more towns that form a contiguous area
- Must be filed with the town clerk in each of the affected towns; one will receive the original resolution, and the other town or towns will each receive a certified copy of the resolution
Once the process to establish a single town court is initiated, the boards of the affected towns must hold a joint public hearing, which must be held 20 to 40 days after the notice is published. The notice of hearing must be published:
- by the town clerk of the town in which the original petition or resolution was filed;
- within 30 days after the filing of the original and certified copies of the petition or resolution; and
- in the official newspaper of each town, or in the absence of an official newspaper, in a newspaper that is published within the county and has a general circulation within the area of the town.
For the public hearing, the boards of the affected towns must:
- meet at the time and place specified in the notice of hearing;
- select one of its member to preside over the meeting; and
- hear testimony and receive evidence and information that may be presented concerning the petition or resolution to establish a single town court.
Within 60 days after the hearing, the town boards must determine whether to approve the petition or resolution. Each town board must approve the petition or resolution. If they do not, the proceedings terminate and the current justice court structure continues.
If each of the town boards approves the resolution or petition, the boards must prepare a joint resolution that:
- abolishes the office of one justice in each town;
- states that the remaining justice in each town will have jurisdiction in all of the participating towns (the law assumes each town has two justices); and
- identifies each justice whose office will be abolished and each justice whose office will be continued.
If the boards can’t reach an agreement as to which office will be abolished in each town, refer to Section 106-a(9) for further instruction.
The town boards must submit the joint resolution to the voters of each town at the next general election, provided it occurs more than 60 days after the final determination of the language of the resolution.
If the resolution is approved by a majority of the persons voting in each town then:
- the resolution is adopted, and
- the plan to establish the single town court will be implemented as provided in the resolution.
If the resolution is disapproved by a majority of the persons voting in one or more towns then:
- the resolution is defeated, and
- no further action may be taken to implement the plan.
What you should know
If a single town court is established under this process, each justice must keep separate sets of records and dockets and maintain separate bank accounts for each town in which he or she has jurisdiction.
When a single town court is established, each town will retain their respective fine revenues.
If your town is considering consolidating justice court offices, our office may be able to help you assess the costs and benefits by providing revenue and expenditure data.
Town Justice Court Consolidation Process:
These groups can provide assistance to citizens and local governments interested in justice court consolidation.
Office of Court Administration
Phone: (800) 268-7869
New York State Magistrates Association
Phone: (800) 669-6247
New York State Association of Magistrates Court Clerks
Phone: (516) 599-0722
New York Conference of Mayors
Phone: (518) 463-1185
Association of Towns of the State of New York
Phone: (518) 465-7933
Office of the State Comptroller, Justice Court Fund
Phone: (518) 473-6438