PART I - STRUCTURE & JURISDICTION OF THE COURTS
The Unified Court System consists of the following courts and court-related agencies:
Court of Appeals
Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court
Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court
TRIAL COURTS STATEWIDE
Court of Claims
NEW YORK CITY
OUTSIDE NEW YORK CITY
Town & Village Courts **
*primarily a trial court, but in some jurisdictions also hears appeals from local courts
JUDICIAL DEPARTMENTS & DISTRICTS
The courts of the state have been divided into four judicial departments and twelve judicial districts.
The First Department consists of the counties within the First and Twelfth Districts; the Second Department consists of the counties within the Second, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Judicial Districts; the Third Department consists of the counties within the Third, Fourth and Sixth Judicial Districts; and the Fourth Department consists of the counties within the Fifth, Seventh and Eighth Districts.
The jurisdiction of each court is established either by Article VI of the New York State Constitution or by statute. The courts of original jurisdiction, or trial courts, hear cases in the first instance, and the appellate courts hear and determine appeals from the decision of the trial courts.
Court of Appeals
The Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York State, hears cases on appeal from the other appellate courts and, in some instances, from the courts of original jurisdiction. In most cases, its review is limited to questions of law.
There are four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court, one in each of the state's four judicial departments. The Appellate Divisions hear appeals concerning civil and criminal cases.
Appellate Terms of the Supreme Court
In the First and Second Departments, Appellate Terms have been established to hear appeals from criminal and civil cases originating in the Criminal and Civil Courts of the City of New York, and in the Second Department also from civil and criminal cases originating in District, City, Town and Village Courts.
Although the County Court is primarily a trial court, in the Third and Fourth Departments it also has appellate jurisdiction over cases originating in City, Town and Village Courts. Appeals from the County Courts are generally heard in the Appellate Division.
STATEWIDE TRIAL COURTS
The Supreme Court is the trial court of unlimited original jurisdiction, but it generally hears only cases that are outside the jurisdiction of other trial courts of more limited jurisdiction. It exercises its civil jurisdiction statewide. In New York City and some other parts of the state, it also exercises jurisdiction over felony charges.
Court of Claims
The Court of Claims is a statewide court having jurisdiction over claims for monetary damages against the State.
The Family Court is established in each county and in the City of New York. It has jurisdiction over matters involving children and families. Its caseload consists largely of proceedings involving support of dependent relatives, juvenile delinquency, child protection, persons in need of supervision, review and approval of foster care placements, paternity determinations and family offenses.
The Surrogate's Court is established in every county and hears cases involving the affairs of decedents, including the probate of wills and the administration of estates. Family Court and Surrogate's Court both have jurisdiction in adoption proceedings.
NEW YORK CITY COURTS
New York City Civil Court
The Civil Court of the City of New York tries civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000 and other civil matters referred to it by the Supreme Court. It includes a small claims part for informal dispositions of matters not exceeding $3,000 and a housing part for landlord-tenant matters and housing code violations.
New York City Criminal Court
The Criminal Court of the City of New York has jurisdiction over misdemeanors and violations. Judges of the Criminal Court also act as arraigning magistrates and conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases.
COURTS OUTSIDE NEW YORK CITY
The County Court is established in each county outside New York City. It is authorized to handle the prosecution of all crimes committed within the county, although in practice arraignments and other preliminary proceedings on felonies and trials of misdemeanors and minor offenses are handled by courts of limited jurisdiction. The County Court also has limited jurisdiction in civil cases involving amounts up to $25,000. In some counties outside of New York City, the County Court judge also functions as the Family Court judge or Surrogate or both. In these instances, the judge is referred to as a multi-hat judge.
District Courts have been established in Nassau County and the five western towns of Suffolk County. They have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000.
City Courts Outside New York City
City Courts exist in 61 cities and have criminal jurisdiction over misdemeanors and lesser offenses and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $15,000. Some City Courts have separate parts to handle small claims or housing matters. City Court judges act as arraigning magistrates and conduct preliminary hearings in felony cases.
Town and Village Courts
Town and Village Courts have criminal jurisdiction over violations and misdemeanors and civil jurisdiction over claims of up to $3,000. As magistrates, Town and Village Court justices hold arraignments and preliminary hearings for those charged with more serious crimes. Traffic infractions are also heard in these courts.
APPELLATE AUXILIARY OPERATIONS
The major functions of the Appellate Auxiliary Operations include the State Reporter, State Board of Law Examiners, Candidate Fitness Program, Assigned Counsel Program, Law Guardian Program, Attorney Discipline Program and the Mental Hygiene Legal Service Program. With the exception of the State Reporter and the State Board of Law Examiners, which are operated under the direction of the Court of Appeals, all of the above programs are administered under the supervision of the Presiding Justice of each of the Appellate Divisions.
The State Reporter runs the Law Reporting Bureau under the general supervision of the Court of Appeals. The State Reporter provides to the judiciary, lawyers and the public, the published opinions and decisions of the courts considered to be noteworthy as precedent or which are of public interest.
State Board of Law Examiners
The State Board of Law Examiners runs the Candidate Examination Program under the general supervision of the Court of Appeals. The Board determines whether a candidate for the bar is fit to practice law in New York State.
Candidate Fitness Program
The Candidate Fitness Program determines whether candidates possess the demonstrated ethical character required to be admitted to the bar.
Attorney Discipline Program
Through the Attorney Discipline Program, appointed committees conduct investigations of attorney misconduct, and, in more serious cases, prosecute charges before the Appellate Divisions, which then may result in suspension of disbarment of the accused. The purpose of the program is to protect the public from lawyers who are incompetent or unethical.
Assigned Counsel Program
Pursuant to Article 18-B of the County Law, the Assigned Counsel Program administers the providing of legal services by the court to criminal defendants who are financially unable to obtain counsel.
Attorneys for Children Program
The Attorneys for Children Program administers the providing of counsel by the court to minors in certain proceedings in Family Court, such as juvenile delinquency, persons in need of supervision, and child protective proceedings. The court has the discretion to appoint an Attorney for the Child to represent a minor in any proceeding when such representation will serve the purposes of the Family Court Act.
Mental Hygiene Legal Service Program
The Mental Hygiene Legal Service Program (MHLS) provides or procures legal counsel for mentally disabled persons who are under care that restricts their freedom in judicial proceedings concerning confinement, care and treatment.
Commissioners of Jurors and County Clerks
The Juror Information Offices are responsible for supplying the trial courts with prospective jurors and for the management of a variety of functions related to discharging this responsibility, including summoning and qualification of citizens for jury service, the maintenance of juror service records, and the operation of juror assembly rooms.
In New York City, the five County Clerks serve as Commissioners of Jurors and also perform a variety of non-jury functions, including the maintenance of Supreme Court case records, the qualification of notaries public and Commissioners of Deeds, the filing of corporation and business certificates, and the processing of passports. Outside the City of New York, County Clerks are elected county-paid officials who, in addition to many record-keeping functions unrelated to the courts, maintain County Court and Supreme Court records.
Court Law Libraries
Court law libraries serve as major legal research centers and often serve as the only legal reference resources available to the bench, bar and public. There is a public access law library in each county.
PART II - ADMINISTRATIVE STRUCTURE OF THE UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM
Section 28 of Article VI of the State Constitution provides that the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is the Chief Judge of the state and the state's chief judicial officer. The Chief Judge appoints, with the advice and consent of the Administrative Board, a Chief Administrator of the Courts (who is referred to as the Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts if the appointee is a judge.) The Administrative Board of the Courts consists of the Chief Judge as chair and the Presiding Justices of the four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court.
The Chief Judge establishes statewide standards and administrative policies after consultation with the Administrative Board of the Courts and promulgates these after approval by the Court of Appeals.
The Chief Administrative Judge, on behalf of the Chief Judge, is responsible for supervising the administration and operation of the trial courts and for establishing and directing an administrative office for the courts, which is referred to as the Office of Court Administration (OCA). In this task, the Chief Administrative Judge is assisted by two Deputy Chief Administrative Judges, who supervise the day-to-day operations of the trial courts in New York City and in the rest of the state, respectively. In addition, the Chief Administrative Judge appoints administrative judges in each jurisdiction who are given significant administrative latitude to carry out policy and to address local issues. The administrative judges, working with the Deputy Chief Administrative Judges for their respective jurisdictions, allocate and assign judicial and personnel resources to meet the needs and the goals of the courts within the jurisdiction.
The Chief Administrative Judge also appoints a Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Management Support, who supervises the internal operations of the Office of Court Administration, and a Counsel, who directs the legal and legislative work of the Office of Court Administration.
Office of Management Support
The Office of Management Support consists of five operational divisions and four offices, and is under the general direction of the Chief Administrative Judge and the direct supervision of the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Management Support.
The Division of Human Resources is responsible for educational programs for judges and nonjudicial personnel, the court system's equal employment opportunity programs, labor-management relations, payroll processing services, and a broad range of personnel services dealing with job classification, compensation and examination issues.
The Division of Financial Management coordinates the preparation and implementation of the judiciary budget and is responsible for promulgation of fiscal policies and procedures, revenue and expenditure monitoring, control and reporting, general accounting operations, and coordination of the fiscal aspects of the Court Facilities Aid Program.
The Division of Technology is responsible for the development, implementation and oversight of automation and telecommunication services that support court operations and administrative functions.
The Division of Legal Information and Records Management coordinates the law library and the records management functions of the court system.
The Division of Court Operations works with the trial courts in implementing new initiatives and in identifying and addressing operational issues.
A separate Office of Internal Affairs assists management in attaining system goals by conducting internal audits (including internal control reviews) of all court and agency operations of the judiciary and reporting findings to the Chief Administrative Judge. The Office of Internal Affairs also includes the Inspector General, who investigates allegations of misconduct by nonjudicial employees of the court system, and the Special Inspector General for Bias Complaints, who investigates discrimination complaints.
The Office of Public Affairs is responsible for press relations and intergovernmental affairs.
The Office of Court Research compiles caseload statistics, supports jury operations and researches ways of improving court operations.
The Office of Administrative Services provides a wide range of general support service to the courts, including centralized purchasing, supply and printing.
Counsel's Office prepares and analyzes legislation, represents the Unified Court System in litigation, and provides various other forms of legal assistance to the Chief Administrative Judge.
Any person who believes he or she (1) has been the victim of discrimination based on sex, age, race, religion or national origin in the courts or court agencies of New York State, or (2) has been subjected to any form of improper treatment in the courts or court agencies of New York State, may file a complaint with the Administrative Judge of the judicial district in which the discriminatory act or improper treatment is alleged to have occurred. Complaints must be made in writing and must include a brief description of the facts and the time, date and place of occurrence.
Complaints against a judge or justice involving an alleged violation of the Rules of Judicial Conduct should be made directly to: State Commission on Judicial Conduct, 801 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017