Journal of Law and Policy


Noah Sexton


Town and village justice courts have been the center of municipal law, both civil and criminal, since the mid-nineteenth century. However, in the modern world, they have become corrupt, poorly managed institutions, creating issues involving procedural integrity and civil rights. In order to remedy these failures and modernize the New York State Unified Court System, state legislators must look to the district court model as it currently exists in Nassau and Eastern Suffolk Counties. The district court model offers several benefits, including the imposition of educational and experiential requirements for judges, the creation of internal and external oversight institutions, the expansion of jurisdiction for local judges, and increased transparency in records and court dealings. By creating such a centralized, professionalized system of municipal courts, oversight can be expanded, procedural uniformity can be promoted, and basic civil rights now left unguarded or outright denied by justice courts can be protected. Moreover, to preserve the spirit of democratically elected local judicial offices, the Vermont justice of the peace model may be adopted in New York, creating popularly elected positions responsible for handling key local functions, such as giving oaths of office, solemnizing marriages, and hearing tax appeals. By moving away from the unwieldy, outdated town and village justice court regime, New York can catch up with a growing number of similarly minded states, move forward with its efforts to reform the justice system, and ensure that fair local justice is guaranteed to all New Yorkers—not just those living downstate.