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August 5, 2010

DiNapoli: New York’s Justice Courts Collected a
Quarter Billion in Fine-Related Revenue in 2009

New York’s 1,246 town and village justice courts heard more than two million cases and collected $246 million in revenues in 2009, according to a report on the Justice Court Fund released today by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“New York’s justice courts process millions of cases and collect hundreds of millions in revenue each year,” DiNapoli said. “That’s a lot of money.  But New Yorkers don’t know much about these units of local government. My office reviews justice court reports, administers the Justice Court Fund and conducts periodic audits to ensure proper controls are in place to protect public monies from fraud and abuse.  My goal is to make government on every level completely transparent.”

The amount of revenue received by towns and villages varies greatly and is influenced by the total number of cases adjudicated, as well as the type and disposition of those cases. The distribution of the $246 million collected in 2009 is as follows:

  • Towns and villages received 49 percent or $119.9 million;
  • The state received 47 percent or $115.7 million; and
  • Counties received the remaining 4 percent or $10.7 million.

Over the past ten years, while the total amount of revenue collected by justice courts has increased by 68 percent, the distribution of that revenue has been shifting, with a larger portion going to the state as a result of increases in state surcharges and fees than to towns or villages. The state’s share of justice court revenues has risen from 41 to 47 percent, while the town and village share has decreased from 52 to 49 percent. The remaining 4 percent is distributed to counties for programs such as the STOP DWI program.

Justice courts rule on a number of legal issues including traffic offenses and small claims matters, and are often the only point of contact citizens have with the justice system, DiNapoli said. Ninety percent of the $246 million collected by justice courts in 2009 was generated through fines, fees and surcharges on vehicle and traffic violations. Smaller amounts were generated from forfeited bail and violations of environmental, penal and other laws.

DiNapoli’s report notes that recent legislative changes require local justice courts to impose new and increased fees and mandatory surcharges on certain violations. In the past five years, numerous changes were implemented on five different dates. In addition, multiple ad hoc changes over many years have resulted in a system that is complicated and difficult to administer.

DiNapoli’s office works closely with the Office of Court Administration, which is responsible for administering the state’s court system, to coordinate efforts such as providing training to over 1,400 justices and other court personnel related to fiscal oversight of their courts.

Click here for a copy of the report.


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