An act to amend the uniform justice court act, the town law and the
village law, in relation to requiring certain town and village justices
be admitted to practice law in the state
This bill establishes a requirement that justices in high arraignment
volume town and village courts be licensed as attorneys and have five
years of experience.
Section 1 amends Section 105 of the uniform justice court act to require
that a town or village justice selected for a term office in the one
hundred highest arriagnment volume caseload town and village courts in
the state as determined by OCA and DCJS be admitted to practice law in
the state of New York and have 5 years of experience, with the exception
of sitting justices.
Section 2 amends Section 31 of the town law to reflect the same require-
Section 3 amends Section 3-301 of the village law to reflect the same
Section 4 is the effective date.
Justice Courts are town and village courts. These small local courts are
sometimes referred to as magistrate courts. Justice courts have juris-
diction over both civil and criminal matters including smalls claim;
landlord tenant issues, including evictions; prosecution of misdemea-
nors; arraignments preliminary hearings for felonies; and traffic
infractions. Despite the crucial role that justice courts play in the
state legal system, they are underfunded and have little oversight.
There are disparities across the state in the quality of facilities and
in the salaries the courts can offer. There is also no requirement that
a justice court judge be a licensed attorney. At present, New York is
one of only eight states to allow non-lawyer judges to hand down jail
sentences for misdemeanors without the right to a new trial before a
lawyer-judge. The other seven are Arizona, Montana, Colorado, Texas,
Wyoming, Nevada, and South Carolina. And Montana only permits the prac-
tice in rural and or sparsely populated counties.
In the context of criminal proceedings and eviction cases, the lack of
attorney judges raises some due process issues. Most, if not all, crimi-
nal cases involve a deprivation of liberty or property. Eviction cases,
by their very nature are a deprivation of property. It is a well-establ-
ished legal principle that such cases be taken very seriously, and due
care.and thought be given to the decision making process. Criminal
defendants have a right to be represented by an attorney, and the
dissent in a 1976 US Supreme Court case, North v. Russell, asserted
that just as criminal defendants have a right to be represented by an
attorney, they also have a due process right to appear before an attor-
ney judge. While North v. Russell clearly established this right, it
left it up to the states to decide how they want to protect it.
Many smaller localities lack the resources and docket to attract an
attorney to serve as the town or village justice. This bill imposes a
requirement only on those localities that have the largest number of
arraignments in the state, so as to maximize the number of defendants
who appear before lawyer-judges without putting an undue burden on smal-
ler localities. The requirements this bill would impose on the 100
highest-arraignment volume courts are identical to the requirements to
serve as a judge in the Uniform City Court Act.
2022: S8243/A9389, S9433
To be determined.
This act shall take effect on the first of January next succeeding the
date on which it shall have become a law.

Statutes affected:
S139: 31 town law, 3-301 village law
S139A: 31 town law, 3-301 village law
S139B: 31 town law, 3-301 village law
S139C: 31 town law, 3-301 village law