NY Times (Jeremy Peters): Panel Calls for Consolidation and Minimum Standards for Judges in Town Courts
A special commission that spent more than two years studying the often-peculiar form of justice that is handed down in New York’s 1,250 town and village courts issued a report on Wednesday that recommended consolidating some courts and setting minimum standards for judges’ education and training. But the 31-member commission, consisting of lawyers, town justices and state judges, stopped short of recommending that town and village justices – most of whom lack legal backgrounds and, in some cases, even a high school diploma – have training as lawyers. Instead, the commission said courts should provide defendants the option of having their case heard by a judge who is a lawyer. The report’s recommendations did not include the sweeping reforms that some critics of the justice court system had called for, like abolishing the courts altogether and replacing them with a more uniform system of district courts used in many other states. Instead, the recommendations represented “a pragmatic middle ground” that will modernize and improve the centuries-old system, said Carey R. Dunne, chairman of the commission.