New York Supreme Court
New York State Unified Court System
The Supreme Court of the State of New York is the trial-level court of general jurisdiction in the state court system of New York, United States. There is a supreme court in each of New York State's 62 counties, although some smaller counties share judges with neighboring counties. All but the most populous counties are grouped into judicial districts from which the justices are elected, with unwritten agreements allotting the judgeships among the counties of the district.
Nomenclature and terminology
In most states and in the U.S. federal court system, "supreme court" is the name of the highest court in the state. However, the New York Supreme Court is primarily a trial court, roughly equivalent to the "district courts", "superior courts", or "circuit courts" of other states. The highest court in New York State is called the "Court of Appeals". This is a historical hold-over in terminology: see the former Supreme Court of Judicature in England and Wales and the extant Supreme Court of British Columbia (among several superior-level courts in Canadian provinces and Australian states).
Like courts in several other eastern U.S. states, the Supreme Court uses the word "part" to refer to what other states call "departments" or "branches", and the word "term" to refer to what other states call "divisions". A member of the Supreme Court is a "justice". Thus, a criminal defendant in New York is tried in Criminal Term of Supreme Court in a numbered Part before a particular Justice.
Supreme Court Jurisdiction
The State Supreme Court handles large civil cases, and also handles felony criminal cases within the five boroughs that make up New York City. Outside New York City, the County Courts handle felony criminal cases.
Although the New York Supreme Court in theory has unlimited general original jurisdiction over civil litigation, in practice it does not normally hear cases with lower monetary claims that are within the powers of a New York state trial court of limited jurisdiction such as County Court or N.Y.C. Civil Court. Smaller civil cases and less serious criminal cases are handled in other courts: the Civil Court and Criminal Court in New York City; County and District Courts in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on Long Island; and County, City, Town and Village Courts in the rest of the state.
Certain specialized matters are handled by other courts. For example, probate matters are heard in Surrogate's Court; juvenile delinquency and child custody matters in Family Court; and tort and contract claims against the state for monetary damages in the Court of Claims.
By statute, the Supreme Court has exclusive jurisdiction over three areas: matrimonial actions (such as for divorce or annulment), declaratory judgments, and actions against public entities for arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable conduct under Article 78 of the state's Civil Procedure Law. It also effectively has exclusive jurisdiction over other areas sounding in equity such as specific performance and rescission of contract, which have been defined by applicable case law as unsuitable for adjudication by the lower courts.
Appeals from the Supreme Court
Appeals from Supreme Court decisions go to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, which is New York's intermediate appellate court divided into four appellate departments. Notwithstanding the departments, the Appellate Division is one court, and its decisions are binding on all lower courts unless there is a conflict among the appellate departments.
New York's highest appellate court is the Court of Appeals; appeals are taken from the four departments to the Court of Appeals; decisions from the Court of Appeals are binding throughout the state.
Supreme Court locations
The Supreme Court operates from courthouses throughout the state. In each county, the Supreme Court is divided into multiple Parts. The Court uses the term "Part" for what other state courts call a "Department"; that is, a single courtroom staffed by a single judge who manages the cases assigned to that Part.
The Supreme Court in New York County is located in several buildings in Manhattan. The civil branch is in several buildings near Foley Square: the main New York County Courthouse building at 60 Centre Street (see photo), and three others at 80 Centre Street (across Worth Street), 111 Centre Street, and 71 Thomas Street. The criminal branch is at 100 Centre Street, shared with the Manhattan Criminal Court, the Office of the District Attorney and other agencies, and at 111 Centre Street, shared with the New York County Civil Court.
The Supreme Court in Kings County (Brooklyn) and in Richmond County (Staten Island) are similarly housed in their respective counties. In Richmond County several Parts of the Supreme Court are located in the former U.S. Navy Home Port.
In Queens County, the Supreme Court is located in three neighborhoods. The Criminal Term is located in Kew Gardens, in the same building as the New York City Criminal Court. The Civil Term is located in Jamaica and in a small and historic courthouse in Long Island City.
Notable Past New York Supreme Court Justices
- Benjamin N. Cardozo
- Gerald Garson
- Irving Lehman
- Samuel Leibowitz
- Edmund H. Lewis
- Sol Wachtler
- Robert F. Wagner
New York Supreme Court justices are elected to 14-year terms. In practice, most of the power of selecting judges belongs to local political party organizations who cross-endorse each others' candidates. Regardless of the term for which they are elected, justices retire at the end of the year in which they reach the age of seventy years, though subject to annual review justices may serve until the age of 76, a replacement being chosen to a fresh 14-year term that November with effect from the start of the following year.
In February 2006, a federal district court in Brooklyn declared the method of nominating Supreme Court justices to be unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Judge John Gleeson stated: "A state may decide whether or not voters will be the best choosers of judges. But it may not say one thing – 'The justices of the supreme court shall be chosen by the electors,' N.Y. Const. art. VI § 6(c) – and do quite another, as they have here by effectively transferring the power to choose major party leaders. Put simply...the state may not pass off the will of the party leaders as the will of the people. Because that is exactly what the New York judicial convention system does, it violates the First Amendment." In late August 2006, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit unanimously affirmed Gleeson’s ruling, which mandates open primaries until the state legislature builds a new system. The old system remains in place under a stay for the 2006 judicial election process. On February 20, 2007, the Supreme Court of the United States granted petition for certiorari in this case. The case was argued on October 3, 2007, with the decision released on January 16, 2008. In the unanimous opinion for N.Y. State Bd. of Elections v. Lopez Torres, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court found New York's election system to be constitutional. However, both Justices Stevens and Kennedy wrote concurring opinions expressing dislike of the system.
Because the number of elected Supreme Court Justices is far less than the number of judges needed in many counties, there are provisions for judges of the New York City Civil Court, New York City Criminal Court, New York Family Court, and New York Court of Claims to be designated as Acting Supreme Court Justices.
- The New York Supreme Court is the trusted holder of the Deed of Gift of the America's Cup, a document which governs the rules to make a valid challenge for the America’s Cup and the rules of conduct of the races. All interpretation of the document when contested can be taken before the Supreme Court of the State of New York for clarification on whether the Deed of Gift's terms and conditions are being met as written by George L. Schuyler.
- The inscription on the front of the New York County courthouse taken from a letter of George Washington to the Attorney General in 1789: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government." On February 16, 2009 the New York Post reported that the word "true" was actually penned by Washington as "due" according to documents at Library of Congress and National Archives and Records Administration.
- The scene in the 1972 film The Godfather in which Don Barzini was shot was filmed on the steps outside the building.
- The NY County Supreme Court building is also used in the closing scene of Wall Street (1987) and the opening scene of Regarding Henry (1991).
- The NY County Supreme Court building is also used in the Damages series' pilot and opening sequence (with zooms on the inscription)
- ^ New York Post (2009-02-16). "George Denied His Due". http://www.nypost.com/seven/02162009/news/regionalnews/george_denied_his_due_155401.htm.
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