Little Justice In New York Justice Courts
The New York Times is in the middle of a classic series about a certain kind of judicial post that ought to send a shudder down the spine of every million-dollar lawyer and learned jurist in the Empire State. Here is the first part of the series entitled "Broken Bench" by William Glaberson and Jo Craven McGinty. The gist of Part I, naturally enough, comes in its lead paragraphs:
"Some of the courtrooms are not even courtrooms: tiny offices or basement rooms without a judge's bench or jury box. Sometimes the public is not admitted, witnesses are not sworn to tell the truth, and there is no word-for-word record of the proceedings. Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many -- truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers -- have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school. But serious things happen in these little rooms all over New York State. People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. In violation of the law, defendants have been refused lawyers, or sentenced to weeks in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Frightened women have been denied protection from abuse."
Part II of the series starts with a story of a local "judge" named William J. Gori, who presided over a dispute between a man named Gary Betters and the town of Malone, New York. Betters claimed the town owed him some money. He sued. He showed up in court. Town officials didn't. But Betters lost the case anyway because the judge, Gori, had gone to town officials before the trial and discussed the case with them. When asked if he understood that such ex parte contacts are forbidden between judge and litigant, Gori told a reviewing commission that such a concept wasn't even explained in the manual he received when he got the job. This is what passes for justice in this particuar court system.
Good for the New York Times for devoting the resources to this story. Good for William Glaberson, a fine journalist anyway, for devoting the time it must have taken to help report this story. And good for the many honest people who spoke to the Times and thereby allowed their miserable stories to be told to the world.
Shame on New York for establishing this travesty upon justice (literally) and for allowing it to go on as long as it has given how unfair and unjust it is. Shame on the state officials who know there is a huge, serious problem but who choose not to fix it. But mostly shame on those lame "justices" who not only have cheated every single taxpayer and disgrace their state but who have been unfair and unjust and in some cases downright criminal to their neighbors. We need good judges now more than ever before during this particularly ugly moment in American history. What a shame it is to know that there are so many bad ones fouling up the town and village courts of New York.
By Andrew Cohen |
September 26, 2006; 3:00 PM ET
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