New York State court leaders abandon controversial court consolidation plan

August 7, 2023 Rob Abruzzese
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The contentious proposal to restructure New York’s court system, initiated by former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been abandoned by current court leaders. This marks a pivotal shift in policy for the state’s judiciary, the Queens Eagle reports.

Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, who assumed office following DiFiore’s abrupt resignation last year, has made it clear he will not be advocating for the significant changes initially proposed.

The scrapped plan aimed to streamline New York’s vast court organization into a more consolidated structure, a task that was met with opposition. Despite periodic calls for reform, the court system, which has remained largely static for decades, will likely persist in its current form for the foreseeable future.

“Our priority is to work with the governor, legislature and local governments to improve the delivery of justice by our court system within the current structure,” OCA’s spokesperson Lucian Chalfen told the Eagle. “Although some improvements may require constitutional amendments, we are not interested in pursuing a broad restructuring of the courts.”

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State Senator and Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal, who previously supported the restructuring, has no plans to reintroduce a similar constitutional amendment to the one he advocated on behalf of DiFiore in 2022. The proposed amendments included the unification of several court sectors into one Supreme Court with six divisions, and a provision requiring consideration of diversity in all judicial appointments.

The initial plan received significant backlash from various judges’ associations. Several, including the Associations of the Justices of the Supreme Court of the State and City of New York, accused DiFiore and the Office of Court Administration of attempting a power grab. They objected to the proposed creation of a “chief administrator of the courts” position, fearing it would centralize too much power in a single appointed individual within the system.

Judge Wilson has expressed his disapproval of his predecessor’s plan, stating that consolidation and simplification were not “in [his] vocabulary.” His stance was met with approval from his peers, earning him a standing ovation from a group of New York State Supreme Court justices earlier this summer.

Former Chief Judges Jonathan Lippman and Judith Kaye also attempted to restructure the state’s court system, but their efforts similarly failed. According to former Administrative Judge of Queens Supreme Court, Jeremy Weinstein, the prospect of successfully implementing any restructuring plan is “very remote.”

While the dissolution of DiFiore’s plan signals a shift in court leadership, it does not entirely dismiss the need for reform. Chalfen suggests that there are “great opportunities to improve within the existing framework.” Nonetheless, for now, New York’s court system will maintain its current structure, focusing on delivering justice under existing conditions.


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