New York State Courts embrace a vision for modernization and problem-solving

March 4, 2024 Robert Abruzzese, Courthouse Editor
Chief Judge Rowan Wilson, of the NYS Court of Appeals, gave his first State of the Courts address in Albany on Tuesday last week.Photo courtesy of Unified Court System
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In his inaugural State of the Judiciary address, Chief Judge Rowan Wilson of the New York State Courts outlined an ambitious new vision for the judiciary on Tuesday, where he emphasized a shift from merely adjudicating disputes to actively solving problems and improving lives.

“We should cease thinking about courts as places where a judge merely decides which party is right and which is wrong,” Chief Judge Wilson said. “Instead, we should think of the courts as similar to our other branches of government — institutions that attempt to make decisions to improve the lives of those we serve.”

During his speech, Chief Judge Wilson advocated for the courts to function more akin to other government branches, focusing on decisions that positively impact individuals and communities.

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He also called for increased resources for the courts and associated service providers to ensure New Yorkers receive the care and support they need.

“The court system is understaffed and under-resourced even if our increased budget request for next year is fully granted our operating budget will be 10 percent lower than was in 2012 on an inflation adjusted basis,” Wilson said. “Due to past fiscal crises and accompanying budget cuts, the courts have been forced to make due with less with greater resources not just for the courts themselves, but for the attorneys and ancillary providers vital to treating troubled New Yorkers with professionalism, care and compassion.”

Highlighting the Unified Court System’s modernization efforts, Chief Judge Wilson showcased the successes of non-traditional approaches in specialty courts, such as treatment and community courts, which have demonstrated significant benefits. 

The speech stressed the importance of civics education and involvement, with the judiciary playing a pivotal role in educating the public and fostering trust in government institutions. Initiatives such as paid internships for high school graduates and the Scales of Justice Academy were highlighted as key components of this effort.

Despite acknowledging challenges in addressing issues like mental health, substance abuse, and housing, Chief Judge Wilson expressed confidence in the judiciary’s ability to improve these areas through collaboration and innovation.

The speech also introduced the Division of Court Modernization’s accomplishments and plans for 2024, focusing on upgrading courtroom technologies, improving acoustics and partnering with District Attorneys’ Offices for courthouse modernization. This includes the adoption of high-end evidence presentation systems, videoconferencing capabilities, and enhanced accessibility features.

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