NEw York State Unified Court System

Trial Court Restructuring in NYS:

An Analysis of the Budgetary Impact

March 1998

CONTENTS


I. Executive Summary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

II. The New York Judiciary and Court Restructuring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

A. New York's present court structure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

B. The court system's restructuring proposal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9

C. The benefits of court restructuring . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12

III. The Fiscal Impact of Court Restructuring14

A. The costs of court restructuring14

1. Equalization of judicial compensation14

2. Potential increase in judicial certifications14

3. Other potential fiscal impact . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

B. The savings restructuring makes possible17

1. The caseload of the New York courts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17

2. Productivity savings due to case processing efficiencies . . . . . . 21

a. Streamlining the Family Court caseload . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

b. Eliminating the division between Supreme Court and Surrogate's Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24

c. Eliminating the division between Supreme Court and Court of Claims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .24

d. Eliminating dual forums for adoptions . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

e. General back office efficiencies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

3. Non-personal cost savings resulting from efficiencies 26

4. Savings due to consolidated management structure26

5. Savings due to integration of case management information systems27

IV. Conclusion28


 

V. Appendices


Appendix A Court System's Plan for Court Restructuring

Appendix B Budget Impact Summary -- The First Five Years

Appendix C Court System's Proposed Legislation Regarding Job Classification

Appendix D Potential Costs: Backfill of Lower Court Judgeships

Appendix E Workload Charts

Appendix F Caseload Filings by Full-time Equivalent Employee

Appendix G Personal Service Productivity Savings

Appendix H Cost Savings


I. Executive Summary

The structure of the court system in New York State is among the most complex in the nation. In addition to the appellate courts, New York's court system consists of eleven separate trial courts — the Supreme Court, the Court of Claims, the County Court, the Family Court, the Surrogate's Court, the New York City Civil and Criminal Courts, the District Courts on Long Island, City Courts outside of New York City, and Town and Village Justice Courts.

The Unified Court System's restructuring proposal would reconfigure the nine State-funded trial courts (i.e., all trial courts except the Town and Village Courts) into a two-tiered structure, consisting of a Supreme Court and a District Court.

The benefits of the proposed court restructuring are numerous:

 

 

 

 

 

Court restructuring will result in significant savings to the public treasury, although there will be some limited initial costs that partially offset the savings. Those costs are estimated at between $2.3 million and $2.9 million annually, and are in two areas:

 

 

 

These limited increased costs will be far outweighed by the savings that will result from restructuring. These savings, which are projected to grow substantially as the plan is implemented, include:

 

 

 

 

 

If the court system's plan were put into effect on January 1, 2000, as proposed, in just the first year of the plan's implementation the State would save:

 

 

 

 

 

These first-year savings total $4.77 million. Offsetting these savings by the projected $2.3 million first-year cost of restructuring leaves a net savings to the State of $2.47 million in the first year of court restructuring.

By the fifth year of implementation the State would save:

 

 

 

 

 

These fifth-year savings of $38.08 million would be offset by $2.3 to $2.9 million in increased costs, for a net savings of over $35 million.


The net savings for the first five years of restructuring will be:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cumulative net savings for the first five years of restructuring will total $92.31 million.

Court restructuring will thus be more than merely cost-effective. It will produce real and substantial savings for the taxpayers of the State of New York.


 

II. The New York Judiciary and Court Restructuring

A. New York's present court structure

New York's Unified Court System consists of the Court of Appeals; two intermediate appellate courts, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in each of the four Judicial Departments and the Appellate Term of the Supreme Court in the First, Second, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Judicial Districts; and 11 separate trial courts, including the Supreme Court, the Court of Claims, the County Court, the Family Court, the Surrogate's Court, the New York City Civil and Criminal Courts, the District Courts on Long Island, City Courts outside of New York City, and Town and Village Justice Courts.

By operation of the 1976 Unified Court Budget Act (L. 1976, c. 966), the State has assumed responsibility for paying the full operational costs of all these courts except the Town and Village Justice Courts.

The Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals is New York's appellate court of last resort. It hears appeals from decisions of the intermediate appellate courts and, in limited instances, from the trial courts. Its seven judges are appointed to 14-year terms by the Governor, with the advice and consent of the State Senate, from among candidates found well-qualified by the State Commission on Judicial Nomination.

The Appellate Division. The Appellate Division is New York's major intermediate appellate court. It is established as four separate courts, one for each of the State's four Judicial Departments. Each of the Appellate Divisions is headed by a Presiding Justice and hears appeals from orders and judgments of the trial courts within its respective Department. The justices of the Appellate Divisions are designated by the Governor from among the justices of the Supreme Court. Their terms vary, with the Presiding Justices serving for the duration of their terms as justices of the Supreme Court, and the associate justices serving either five-year terms or, where designated on a temporary basis, terms of indeterminate length.

The Appellate Term. The Appellate Term is an intermediate appellate court, established in selected areas of the State (primarily the downstate region) to hear appeals from courts of limited civil and criminal jurisdiction. It is established as two separate courts, one each for the First and Second Departments. Each Appellate Term is headed by a Presiding Justice who, along with the associate justices, is designated by the Chief Administrative Judge with the approval of the Presiding Justice of the local Appellate Division from among the justices of the Supreme Court residing in the geographical region served by the Appellate Term.

The Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is New York's trial court of broadest general and original jurisdiction. In New York City, it sits both as a civil court, where it presides over matrimonial actions and larger monetary and equitable disputes, and as a criminal court, where it presides over felony cases. Outside New York City, Supreme Court sits primarily as a civil court. At present, there are 313 justices of the Supreme Court sitting in trial terms, including justices who have been certificated to serve past age 70. Justices of the Supreme Court are elected to office on a judicial district-wide basis for 14-year terms. Supplementing their efforts are 124 acting justices of the Supreme Court, most of whom sit in New York City. These acting justices of the Supreme Court are drawn from the ranks of judges of the Court of Claims, the New York City Family, Civil and Criminal Courts, and the upstate county-level courts. They are designated by the Chief Administrative Judge pursuant to his constitutional powers. The large number of such designations is necessary because, while the Supreme Court workload has steadily increased over the years, the Legislature is prohibited by the Constitution from creating new Supreme Court judgeships in a Judicial District where the number of Supreme Court judgeships will exceed the ratio of one for every 50,000 residents in the District.

The Court of Claims. The Court of Claims is a statewide court. It consists of 72 judges appointed by the Governor with the advice and consent of the State Senate. The Court of Claims exercises jurisdiction over claims against the State or by the State against a claimant or between conflicting claimants. Many judges of the Court of Claims, however, are designated as acting Supreme Court justices, primarily to preside over felony parts of Supreme Court.

The County Court. County Court sits in each of the 57 counties outside of New York City. It consists of 127 judges, elected to office countywide for terms of ten years. This number includes four judges who are elected to serve both in County Court and Family Court; 13 judges who are elected to serve in both County Court and Surrogate's Court; and 38 judges who are elected to serve in County Court, Family Court and Surrogate's Court. County Court, which has limited civil jurisdiction, is primarily a criminal court in which felonies are tried.

The Family Court. Family Court sits in each of the 57 counties outside of New York City and, as a single body, in New York City. It consists of 75 judges outside of New York City (excluding those who were elected to serve in the other county-level courts), and 47 judges in New York City. Outside New York City, judges are elected to office countywide for terms of ten years; in the City, judges are appointed to office by the Mayor for terms of ten years. Family Court presides over a broad spectrum of matters, including: (1) PINS and delinquency proceedings, (2) adoptions, (3) child custody and dependent support proceedings; (4) paternity proceedings; and (5) termination of parental rights proceedings.

The Surrogate's Court. Surrogate's Court sits in each of the State's 62 counties. Surrogate's Court consists of 29 judges (excluding those who were elected to serve in the other county-level courts). Outside New York City, judges are elected to office countywide for terms of ten years; in New York City, judges are elected to office county- wide for terms of 14 years. Surrogate's Court has jurisdiction over all litigation relating to the affairs of decedents, probate of wills, administration of estates and guardianship of the property of minors. It also exercises, concurrently with Family Court, jurisdiction over adoptions.

The New York City Civil Court. The Civil Court consists of 120 judges. They are elected to office countywide or district-wide for terms of ten years. The Civil Court has jurisdiction of: (1) civil cases where the amount in dispute does not exceed $25,000; (2) landlord and tenant proceedings; (3) commercial claims proceedings; and (4) small claims proceedings. It has a special Housing Part, staffed by quasi-judicial housing judges, through which it exercises its landlord and tenant jurisdiction. Many judges of the Civil Court are designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices and perform long-term service in the Supreme Court in New York City.

The New York City Criminal Court. The Criminal Court is the local criminal court for New York City, exercising jurisdiction over lesser crimes and offenses. The Criminal Court consists of 107 judges, who are appointed to office by the Mayor for terms of ten years. Many judges of the Criminal Court are designated as acting Supreme Court justices and perform long-term service in the Supreme Court in New York City.

The District Court. The District Court is established in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. It consists of 25 judges in Nassau County, and 22 judges in Suffolk County. Judges are elected district-wide for terms of six years. The District Court is the local criminal court for the counties in which it is established. It also is a civil court, having jurisdiction of: (1) civil cases where the amount in dispute does not exceed $15,000; (2) landlord and tenant proceedings; (3) commercial claims proceedings; and (4) small claims proceedings.

The City Courts outside New York City. There is a City Court established for each of the 61 cities outside New York City. Some of these courts are served by judges who are full-time, viz., they are not permitted to practice law in addition to their judicial duties. Others are served by a mix of full-time and part-time judges; others, still, by part- time judges only. Some judges are appointed, some elected. Full-time judges serve for terms of ten years while part-time judges serve for terms of six years. Each City Court is the local criminal court for the city in which it is established. It also is a civil court, having jurisdiction of: (1) civil cases where the amount in dispute does not exceed $15,000; (2) landlord and tenant proceedings; (3) commercial claims proceedings; and (4) small claims proceedings.

Town and Village Justice Courts. The Justice Courts serve the many towns and villages of the State. The judges of these courts, many of whom are not lawyers, serve part-time. Most are elected to office for terms of four years. With limited exceptions, each Justice Court is the local criminal court for the town or village in which it is established. It also is a civil court, having jurisdiction of: (1) civil cases where the amount in dispute does not exceed $6,000; (2) landlord and tenant proceedings; (3) commercial claims proceedings; and (4) small claims proceedings.

B. The court system's restructuring proposal

The court system's restructuring proposal would reconfigure the nine State-funded trial courts into a two-tiered structure, consisting of a Supreme Court and a statewide District Court. More specifically:

 

 

 

The consolidated Supreme Court would be organized into a series of specific divisions, including: (1) a Family Division for domestic relations matters and all matters formerly heard in Family Court; (2) a Probate Division for matters formerly heard in the Surrogate's Court; (3) a Criminal Division in which criminal charges would be prosecuted; (4) a Commercial Division for corporate litigation; and (5) a Public Claims Division for all matters formerly heard in the Court of Claims. The remainder of the Supreme Court's caseload, consisting in large part of tort cases, would be heard in a general civil division. Other specialized divisions may be established as the Chief Administrative Judge determines necessary.

The newly-established statewide District Court would be configured so that there would be a single branch of the Court in New York City, and separate branches outside the City to replace each of the two current District Courts and the 61 upstate City Courts. The branches of the statewide District Court would have the same jurisdiction they now enjoy as separate trial courts, viz., jurisdiction over lesser crimes and offenses and civil jurisdiction including small claims, commercial claims and landlord and tenant proceedings. There would be one substantive change, however: the maximum monetary amount for which a civil suit could be brought would increase to $50,000. To exercise its jurisdiction, the New York City branch of the District Court would be comprised of three divisions: civil, criminal and housing. Outside of New York City, individual branches of the District Court would not be subdivided into separate divisions.

The court system's restructuring proposal also would affect the current practices regarding the temporary assignment of judges of one court to another court. Outside New York City, the consolidation of the county-level courts with Supreme Court would eliminate the need for such temporary assignments. For New York City, the proposal includes a five-year transition period (i.e., from January 1, 2000 through December 31, 2004) during which time the Chief Administrative Judge would continue to have authority to temporarily assign Civil and Criminal Court Judges to Supreme Court, but after which such authority would be rescinded.

Complementing this change, the proposal calls for elimination of the Constitution's one-per-50,000 restriction on the number of justices of the Supreme Court that the Legislature may create in any Judicial District.

Finally, the proposal establishes a process that will produce a Fifth Judicial Department for the State. By this process, the Legislature will have one year, beginning January 1, 2000, during which it can establish a Fifth Judicial Department. Should it not do so, the Chief Administrative Judge will have the period between January 1st and February 28th of 2001 in which to offer the Judiciary's plan for a Fifth Judicial Department. Once the Judiciary's plan is presented, the Legislature would have one year in which to substitute an alternative plan. Failing to do so, the Judiciary's plan would take effect.

The following diagrams illustrate the simplified court structure under the proposal:

New York State Unified Court System - Proposed Restructuring of the Trial CourtsNew York State Unified Court System - Current Trial Court Structure

C. The benefits of court restructuring

It has been almost 40 years since the last serious examination of court structure in this State. Given the changes, demographic, economic, technological, and legal, over those years, the proposed overhaul and restructuring of the court system is long overdue. The benefits of the proposed court restructuring, to the public generally, to individual litigants, to the court system, and to the State itself, are numerous. Among the most apparent:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

III. The Fiscal Impact of Court Restructuring

A. The costs of court restructuring

While, as explained below, court restructuring will result in a significant savings to the public treasury, there will be some limited initial costs that partially offset the larger savings. Those costs are estimated at between $2.3 million and $2.9 million annually. The costs are in two areas: (1) judicial compensation; and (2) potential increase in the number of certificated justices of the Supreme Court.

1. Equalization of judicial compensation. In 1977, the State assumed responsibility for the costs of court operations statewide, excluding only those of the Town and Village Justice Courts. See L. 1976, c. 966. Since then, disparities in the pay of judges serving on the same courts and performing like functions have persisted. These disparities have given rise to a significant number of lawsuits, all challenging the constitutionality of the existing pay scheme as it applies to individual judges or groups of judges. These lawsuits, some of which have been successful, are ongoing.

Court restructuring should eliminate these salary disparities. As has been the case, all justices of the Supreme Court should continue to earn identical wages. A single level of compensation would be provided as well to judges of the unified statewide District Court. Salary parity should produce a net annual increase of $2.3 million in the Judiciary budget's appropriation request for judicial salaries.

2. Potential increase in judicial certifications. Justices of the Supreme Court, like judges of the other State-paid trial courts, must retire as of December 31st in the year they reach age 70. See NY Const art VI, § 25; Judiciary Law § 23. Unlike the other judges, however, justices of the Supreme Court are eligible for certification by the Administrative Board of the Courts to continue in service for up to three additional two- year terms. Id.; Judiciary Law § 115. Certification is not automatic. To merit certification, a justice must be in good physical and mental health and it must be demonstrated that his or her services "are necessary to expedite the business of the court." Certification does not affect the vacancy created by a justice's retirement; when a justice retires because of age, whether he or she is certificated to continue in service, his or her position is deemed vacant and an election is held to fill it for a new 14-year term.

One of the direct consequences of court restructuring, and merger of the Court of Claims, the County Court, the Family Court and the Surrogate's Court with the Supreme Court, is enlargement of the pool of justices eligible for certification. With each certification of a justice whose position was merged as of January 1, 2000, the Judiciary budget must be increased to fund the cost of the office.

It does not appear, however, that in the first few years following January 1, 2000 and court restructuring there will be a large number of additional judicial certifications. First, the size of the pool of justices eligible for certification does not determine the number of certifications made. Second, and in any event, the demographics of the judges currently in the courts to be merged into the Supreme Court are very different than those of existing Supreme Court justices and therefore it is not expected that there will be a significant increase in the number of justices eligible for certification (i.e., justices who will reach age 70 in the period between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2004). Based on these considerations, it is estimated that there would be a graduated increase in the costs of certificated judges, and, in this analysis, such costs have been offset against the savings projected from restructuring.

3. Other potential fiscal impact. Court restructuring may also bring about costs and savings associated with modifications in the staffing of the courts being merged with the Supreme Court. For example, it may be that legal and secretarial support staffing now provided to justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Claims will be extended to all the judges who become justices of the Supreme Court. Likewise, it may be appropriate to upgrade certain clerical or other staff positions to what heretofore have been Supreme Court levels. It should not be overlooked, however, that it may be possible in light of the administrative flexibility that court restructuring promises to modify the staffing design in divisions of the merged Supreme Court, which could well result in reductions in the costs of operating the courts. This report does not attempt to quantify the fiscal impact of any of such changes.

Another possible cost of the restructuring plan is the cost of backfilling new District Court judgeships as the position of acting justice of the Supreme Court is phased out and additional permanent Supreme Court judgeships are established. This potential cost cannot be estimated with any amount of precision, as the creation of any new judgeships will depend entirely on actions taken by the Legislature.

The Legislature's position on restructuring does not provide for the creation of any new District Court judgeships. In contrast, the court system's proposal assumes that the number of new District Court judgeships will equal the number of acting Supreme Court judgeships. There are several possible scenarios as to how this issue might be addressed. It may be, for example, that the number of new District Court judgeships created in New York City will equal only the number of judges who are not re-elected or reappointed to a Supreme Court judgeship.

For purposes of this report, a middle ground has been explored — that new District Court judgeships will be created in a number equal to 50 percent of the current acting Supreme Court judgeships. As shown in Appendix D, if 50 percent of these positions are backfilled, the annual cost in the final year of a five-year phase-in will be $32.57 million. In such case, the State would, in light of the savings explained below, still experience a significant savings due to restructuring.

B. The savings restructuring makes possible

New York State's current system of nine separate trial courts with specialized jurisdictions inevitably creates inefficiencies and is not conducive to the effective management of the caseload. Court restructuring, and in particular the elimination of the duplicative case processing that is inherent in the present system of multiple courts having related jurisdiction, will eliminate the structural obstacles to efficient management. A number of analyses were undertaken to quantify the fiscal impact of the resulting increases in efficiency. Fundamental to this process, however, is an understanding of the size of the State courts' caseloads and the demands on the system.

1. The caseload of the New York courts. Each year, the New York State court system processes an immense volume of cases. In 1997, the number of new cases brought in the major trial courts reached 3.257 million. In 1998, the number is expected to be even greater — exceeding 3.36 million statewide, an increase in a single year of almost 3.3 percent. That there will be such an increase is predictable. As shown by the following table, the number of new cases filed in the courts has steadily increased over the past five years:

Table 1. New Case Filings (1993-1997)

 

Year

New Cases

Filed

Increase over

Preceding Year

1993 2702645 ———
1994 2798566 3.55%
1995 2936224 4.92%
1996 3120954 6.29%
1997 3256687 4.35 %

In fact, the total increase in the caseload over this period has exceeded 19%. Even more significant, the rate of increase in the caseload has grown steadily. Moreover, this increase is not limited to a few regions of the State but, rather, is a statewide pattern.

Based on the foregoing, the aggregate number of new case filings annually is expected to increase at an average rate of nearly 5% each year — or by a total of nearly 38% — over the next eight years. This trend leads to the conclusion that in the year 2005 (or five years after the court system's court restructuring plan is slated to take effect) the incoming caseload will number 4,653,682 cases. This is almost 1.4 million new cases more each year than were filed with the courts in 1997.

As the caseloads have escalated in each of the past five years, the Judiciary has also experienced a sizeable increase in the number of case filings processed per nonjudicial court employee. As indicated in Table 2 and the summary chart included as Appendix F, this rate has risen steadily during the same time period:

Table 2. Case Filings Per Nonjudicial Employee (1993-1998)

 

Year

New Cases

Filed

NJ FTE

Positions

Filings/

FTE

Increase over Preceding Year
1993 2702645 13450 201 ———
1994 2798566 13854 202 0.53%
1995 2936224 14054 209 3.43%
1996 3120954 13765 227 8.52%
1997 3256687 14170 230 1.37%
1998 3,363,847* 14,309* 235* 2.29%*

* Projected figures

The rate of case filings processed per nonjudicial court employee has grown by 16.1% since 1993. Projecting through 1998, when it is expected that the rate of filings to full- time employees will be 2.29% higher than in 1997, the growth since 1993 will be over 23%. This means that, on average, each court employee in 1998 is expected to handle a workload that is still over 16% more than that which he or she handled in 1993, despite having, effectively, over 850 more court employees involved in processing the caseload.

As noted, court caseloads are increasing in all of New York's courts and in every region of the State at an average rate of nearly 5 percent annually. Analysis of this trend reveals that over the five years between 2000 and 2005 — the first five years of the restructuring proposed under the court system's plan — the yearly number of new cases will increase by 963,000. Moreover, the courts will be required to handle 1.13 million cases more than they would have had to handle if the number of new filings in 1999 were to remain constant over the period, as indicated in the following table:

Table 3. Projected New Case Filings (1999-2004)

 

 

Year

New Cases

Filed

1999 3523493
2000 3690716
2001 3865875
2002 4049348
2003 4241528

2004

2005

4,442,828

4,653,682

This cumulative increase in the number of new caseload filings will greatly increase the overall cost of the court system's day-to-day operations. Appendix F sets out a projected timetable under which the costs of processing these additional cases would be phased in, assuming no court restructure.

2. Productivity savings due to case processing efficiencies. Court restructuring will not appreciably reduce the magnitude of the caseload or the expected rate of future increase. Restructuring will, however, significantly reduce the costs to the Judiciary of processing that caseload in a timely fashion by eliminating case processing redundancies made necessary by the present system of multiple courts with overlapping jurisdiction.

With restructuring, there will be a significant increase in the level of personal service productivity, which, as set forth in Table 4 and Appendices G and H, will save the State a total of $74.9 million from 2000 to 2004.

Table 4. Trial Court Productivity Increase Under Court Restructuring

Schedule of Positions

without Restructuring*

Schedule of Positions

with Restructuring*

 

Productivity Increase

Year 1 14962 14852 .74%
Year 2 15200 14961 1.57%
Year 3 15450 15074 2.43%
Year 4 15712 15204 3.23%
Year 5 15986 15339 4.05%

*Schedule of positions includes all nonjudicial positions.

The analyses that lead to this conclusion are set forth below:

a. Streamlining the Family Court caseload. Nowhere will the benefits of a restructured trial court system be more dramatic than in the area of family-related matters. Under the present court structure, matrimonial proceedings for divorce or separation are heard in Supreme Court while, under most circumstances, related child custody, support and visitation proceedings are brought in Family Court. This bifurcation not only inconveniences the parties, but is unnecessarily expensive both to the parties and the court system and places great demands on court resources.

Court restructuring will result in the consolidation of related child custody and visitation disputes, along with matrimonial proceedings for separation or divorce, in a single forum. The benefit to the parties has been presented in testimony and reports. For the courts, and the taxpayers who fund them, this consolidation is expected to reduce the number of new custody and visitation filings by between 48,200 and 55,700 per year with the number of cumulative filings reduced by 259,410 during the first five years after court restructuring takes effect. This dramatic reduction in the number of separate proceedings, 6.8% of the total filings, translates into a significant increase in productivity. See Table 5.

Table 5. Projected Custody and Visitation Filings Adjustment (2000-2004)

Year

Total Filings Filings Adjustment
2000 704530 48164
2001 730731 49955
2002 757906 51813
2003 786092 53740
2004 815325 55738

The benefits in the family-related area are not limited to the impact on first- instance resolution of matrimonial litigation, however. Under restructuring, petitions involving rehearings on custody, visitation and support orders would similarly be brought in one court for review and determination by one judge, ideally the judge making the original determination. Such a process would produce an annual reduction of approximately 20,000 separate filings for modifications in these categories of Family Court cases.

Restructuring will also result in more efficient handling and disposition of juvenile offender cases. These cases, which involve juveniles charged with certain serious designated felonies, can be brought in a criminal court or in Family Court. Such cases often begin in the criminal court, where a trial is held, and then are transferred to the Family Court for sentencing. These cases generally require more time to process than other juvenile delinquency petitions in Family Court because they involve more serious offenses and are more complex. More appearances are required, more parties and agencies typically are involved and require notification of the proceedings, and case processing tasks are subject to strict, legally-mandated time frames. Requiring two courts to participate in their disposition renders them even more complex, labor-intensive for court personnel and time-consuming. Permitting disposition of these cases by a single judge in a single court — and thereby reducing duplication in the multitude of clerical and procedural processing tasks they entail — will greatly facilitate their processing.

b. Eliminating the division between Supreme Court and Surrogate's Court. There are many instances where the division between the Supreme and the Surrogate's Courts requires commencement of multiple proceedings to resolve a single dispute or related disputes that, in the interests of judicial economy and the expense and convenience of the litigants involved, could be disposed of in a single forum. For example, there are venues in which Surrogates believe that their courts should oversee the distribution of the proceeds in wrongful death cases. Those cases, however, must be tried in Supreme Court. Likewise, there is much confusion concerning the circumstances under which Surrogate's Court can assume jurisdiction over an inter vivos trust, or can fully try a matter, such as one which raises a creditor's claim against a decedent's estate, as well as a claim against a living debtor. Finally, there also are circumstances under which proceedings in Surrogate's Court must be interrupted so that the parties may go to Supreme Court to have it resolve collateral or indirectly-related issues over which Surrogate's Court has no jurisdiction (e.g., resolution of an attorney fee dispute).

c. Eliminating the division between Supreme Court and the Court of Claims. The merger of the Court of Claims into the Supreme Court will result in a similar reduction in duplicative effort and increase in productivity. Currently, there are often lawsuits that arise from the same incident and that involve the same facts and the same witnesses, but yet must be tried in different courts because one defendant is the State and another is a private party (or perhaps a local government). A typical example is a two-vehicle accident on a State highway. The plaintiff may wish to sue both the State for negligent maintenance of the highway and the other driver for his or her negligence. Two suits must be brought, one in the Court of Claims against the State and one in Supreme Court against the other driver. As a result, two judges often study the same set of facts (perhaps even both listening to the same expert testimony), while the nonjudicial personnel in the two courts engage in similar duplicative efforts, such as opening of the files, scheduling of conferences, etc.

An even more anomalous situation occurs when both the State and a State employee are sued in connection with the same incident. Again, the suit against the State proceeds in the Court of Claims, while the suit against the State employee is brought in the Supreme Court, or a lower court, depending on the amount sought. Not only is the there a duplication of effort, time and resources, but there is a real possibility of inconsistent results.

The State is frequently involved in multi-party transactions or occurrences, such as accidents or contractual relations. If such lawsuits could be tried in the same court, both cases could be assigned to a single judge. The court system's restructuring plan would not affect whether a particular claim would be tried to the court or a jury, but the assiginment of all related cases to a single judge could permit the most efficient disposition of all claims.

d. Eliminating dual forums for adoptions. Under current law, both Surrogate's Court and Family Court are authorized to approve adoptions. Were adoption authority exercised by a single, consolidated judicial forum, certain economies of scale could be achieved, with a resulting increase in case processing efficiency and a decrease in the marginal cost of disposing of cases.

e. General back office efficiencies. Court restructuring will make possible many efficiency improvements in the processing of cases. One of the areas that will be most affected is that involving the management of case records and information systems.

In the trial courts, creation and management of records and information are among the principal activities performed by nonjudicial court personnel. The court system now generates over 3.2 million new case files each year and, statewide, the various clerical tasks associated with creation, maintenance and disposition of each of these files occupy a workforce of 5,045 trial court employees. This is more than one- third of the nonjudicial workforce. By the year 2000, as the number of new case files climbs to nearly 3.7 million annually, associated records management tasks will require the efforts of a workforce of 5,452 trial court employees.

With court restructuring as the court system has proposed, nine separate trial courts, each with its own record keeping system and its own idiosyncratic case processing procedures, will be consolidated into two. Redundancies will be largely eliminated, and duplicate record keeping systems will be replaced by a uniform system with uniform processing procedures. Many record keeping operations that until now have remained paper-based (and especially labor-intensive), because each specialized court follows its own particular set of procedures, can be automated when the courts merge and procedures are standardized. Where record storage, processing and retrieval already are automated, restructuring will eliminate redundant data entry, duplicate storage in multiple sites, and the need for record retrieval and transfer. Moreover, the time required to train new employees in the use of records management will be reduced, as paper-based systems are abolished and automated systems are simplified and integrated into a single case management system for the consolidated court structure. As a result back office and in-part clerical personnel in the trial courts will be able to handle more cases more quickly. This will foster a significantly higher rate of productivity per court employee and better enable the courts to meet the increasing workload within available resources.

3. Non-personal cost savings resulting from efficiencies. Court restructuring will provide the Judiciary with many other opportunities by which to accomplish its mission in a more efficient and less costly fashion. In addition to the benefits of more flexible assignment of personnel and coordinated judicial assignments, savings can be expected from more coordinated delivery of administrative services. Lower costs are expected, for example, for storage and retrieval of records. Efficiencies can also be expected through greater sharing of support services such as jury, law library, microfilming, purchasing, revenue collection, and accounting. In these areas, savings will occur in general non- personal service operating expenses, and savings of $1.8 million annually by the fifth year will be achieved at a minimum.

4. Savings due to consolidated management structure. Court restructuring also will provide the organizational framework needed to achieve the goal of increasing efficiency of court operations through coordinated, unified court management. For example, under a revised structure a single presiding judge and county-level court administrator could be designated for each county. This management structure would support enhanced judicial coordination and cross-assignment of court personnel to meet caseload demands. A single authority for trial court budgeting, planning and personnel administration across all Supreme Court divisions and District Courts would streamline management control.

Reducing the number of administrative structures can also reduce middle management and supervisory costs. The consolidation of management authority in a single county court's executive position, for example, would gradually reduce the salary costs of the current fragmented court structure. A tighter management structure would also facilitate cross-assignment and cross-training of court personnel allowing for the avoidance of costs for increased staffing as caseload demands change and grow. It is estimated that a minimum of 60 fewer mid-level court managers would be required. The resulting annual savings are projected to increase from $.53 million in 2000 to $4.2 million in 2004, for a five year cumulative total of $12.6 million.

5. Savings due to integration of case management information systems. Court restructuring would also provide an opportunity for integration of the Judiciary's information management systems. Such integration will result in cost savings through the elimination of work associated with redundant data entry and records transfer. New employee training also would be streamlined and simplified with a single, user-friendly case processing application for all court divisions.

Currently, there are a significant number of different automated case management information systems in the Supreme, County, Surrogate's and Family Courts. With court consolidation, and in view of ever-increasing caseloads, most of these separate systems have outlived their life expectancies and no longer meet the court system's needs. This lack of standardization among trial court case processing systems and related redundancies in data entry and records management is inefficient and costly. Consolidation will provide the framework for replacing these systems with one robust case management system that will allow the court system to take full advantage of CourtNet, the new statewide information network.

A major time and work-saving feature of a consolidated case management system would be the ability to automatically generate documents (petitions, orders, summonses, notices, etc.). It also is envisioned that on-line storage and retrieval of documents, whether produced in court or received from an outside source, will be incorporated into the new automated system. Additionally, statistics will be compiled automatically statewide, eliminating the need for data entry into a separate application. Interfaces to related information systems in executive branch and local family and criminal justice agencies will also be enhanced as a court case management system is developed on a statewide basis. A new case processing system will also allow trial courts to share information among divisions and to access information repositories such as the Domestic Violence Registry.

Once the new case management system is fully operational, cost savings from case information database integration, automated report generation and inquiry and interfaces with outside agencies, along with decreased communications costs, should approximate $2.0 million per year.

Localities also would benefit from a more efficient use of court facilities. A consolidated court system will allow for maximized use of existing court space, a more rational approach to planning of new court space and, ultimately, lower costs for the design and construction of new and renovated court facilities.


IV. Conclusion

The foregoing analysis demonstrates that restructuring New York's trial courts into a two-tiered system, in the manner proposed by the court system, will produce meaningful savings for the State from the day it is implemented. While there will be an annual modest cost of between $2.3 and $2.9 million, attributable to the equalization of judicial salaries in the Supreme Court and in the statewide District Court, this cost will be more than offset by a series of economies made possible only in a restructured court system. If the court system's plan is put into effect January 1, 2000, as proposed, the State can expect, in the year 2000 alone, to realize a net savings of over $2 million. By the fifth year of the implementation, the annual net savings will increase to $35 million, with a cumulative five-year savings of over $92 million.

In undertaking any analysis of the fiscal consequences of restructuring the court system, additional benefits to the taxpayer should not be overlooked: (1) potential for saving litigants the sizeable attorney's fees they now pay to litigate jurisdictional disputes and to venture back and forth between courts where jurisdictional fragmentation prevents one court from disposing of all elements of a dispute; and (2) potential for making New York a more attractive place for business to remain or in which to relocate and thereby create more jobs and greater tax revenues.

One other area this report does not explore is the possible savings to be realized through the part of the restructuring plan that calls for an increase in the jurisdictional ceiling of the District Court to $50,000. For the State, this may augur further savings because the cost of adding resources in the lower courts typically is less than that of adding the same resources to the Supreme Court. For individuals, it may enable savings in the form of reduced attorney's fees because it generally is less expensive to litigate in the lower civil courts, where cases can be processed more rapidly.

V. Appendices