New York’s Chief Judge Janet DiFiore isn’t going to wait two decades to reform the state’s “byzantine” court system.
A proposal to hold a constitutional convention was soundly rejected by voters and they won’t get another chance to approve one for 20 years. But that doesn’t mean the judiciary can’t work with the Legislature and the voters to enact reforms anyway, she announced Friday.
A panel of judges, attorneys and academics formed last year to study the benefits to the courts of holding a constitutional convention will shift its efforts on legislative reforms to make the courts more efficient, she said in a statement.
“The goal is to reduce delays, make the courts more efficient, reduce costs to the litigants and improve the quality of justice,” said Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman, one of the chairs of the task force, in an interview.
In New York, the state constitution may be amended through a constitutional convention or by the Legislature. Even with legislative approval, voters still have to approve any changes to the constitution.
This is not the first task force to review the structure, organization and jurisdiction of New York courts. Almost every chief judge has had a task force but no significant changes have been made to the system, which DiFiore called byzantine.
“Constitutional reforms should be considered where necessary to remove roadblocks to improving the work of the courts and to make court operations more efficient and less costly to the taxpayers and the litigants,” DiFiore said.
Scheinkman said the task force will identify the roadblocks to change and come up with practical, achievable and even scaled-down versions of reforms to create a menu of options for the chief judge. She will then decide which reforms to bring to the Legislature.
Among the issues the task force will discuss: court mergers, operational issues, lack of uniform rules between courts and restrictions by population on the number of Supreme Court justices, Scheinkman said.