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Judicial reform, of sorts

A state panel has recommended a half-a-loaf proposal to reform the state's unwieldy network of town and village courts. You don't have to be a high school graduate, much less a lawyer, to be a judge in these Hooterville courts. And your courtroom can be in a garage, as in, "You may now approach the bench, right between the snowblower and trash cans."

In other words, Flip Wilson could have really been a town or village judge in New York State. You know, "Here Come Da Judge." For that matter, so could Geraldine.

Reports the New York Times, whose 2006 investigation spurred a review of the system:

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.

Of course, even the half-a-loaf approach is too much for some, including Mark G. Farrell, Amherst town justice and president of the New York State Magistrates Association.

Reports The News:

He took issue with the suggestions about legislation that would force consolidation of courts and the “opt out” clause.

Farrell predicted that with the current economic situation, many villages and towns will consolidate their courts on their own to save money.

With a few exceptions, it's not happening when it comes to any other aspect of local towns and villages. I don't know what makes Farrell thinks it will be any different when it comes to the courts. After all, there are a lot of phony baloney jobs to protect there, too.

Consider the Town of Brant, population 1,906. It's got not one town justice, but two. And they have not one clerk between them, but two.

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State government
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