Legal Industry News

May 31, 2012

New York Bar Association Joins Call for Change to Simplified Two-Tier State Trial Court Structure

The New York State Bar Association is urging lawmakers to begin the process of amending the state Constitution to simplify and reorganize the state court system, one of the most complex and cumbersome in the nation.

In keeping with the Bar Association’s 2012 legislative priorities, the Bar Association has joined with the Coalition for Court Simplification—an organization of about 50 state business leaders, good government groups, legal organizations and citizen advocates—in seeking these long-overdue reforms. (Website:

“The existing court structure no longer adequately serves the citizens of New York,” said Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo). “The labyrinth of overlapping jurisdictions of multiple courts creates unnecessary financial burdens and delays for millions of litigants. It needs to be changed.”

The Bar Association and the coalition are calling for a constitutional amendment that would replace the existing system with a simplified two-tiered state trial court structure that would enhance the public’s understanding of the system and allow all aspects of a matter to be heard in a single court, according to a statement issued by the association.

Under the current system, for instance, a contested divorce involving children might fall under the jurisdictions of three separate courts: Supreme Court to deal with marital separation and financial matters, Family Court to deal with child custody issues, and County Court to deal with domestic violence and orders of protection. This multi-court approach places an undue burden on the parties involved, adding costs and unnecessary delays.

The Coalition says revamping the court system could save taxpayers $121 million a year, as well as save litigants about $433 million annually in attorney’s fees, court filing fees, lost wages and other related costs. It is co-chaired by former Bar Association President Stephen P. Younger of New York City (Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler) and Fern Schair of New York City (Fordham Law School).

Amending the state Constitution requires approval by two separately elected state legislatures and a statewide referendum.

On its website, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association stated that it “is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.”

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