Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Justice Courts Funds: State, County and Local Shares of Fees and Fines

According to the New York State Unified Court System there are close to 1,300 Justice Courts located across most of New York State’s town and villages (none are located in New York City). The nearly 2,200 Town and Village judges handle close to 2 million cases a year. The hours and frequency of operation of the individual Justice Courts varies, depending on the size of the locality and the size of the court’s caseload.

The Town and Village Courts play a vital role in the New York State Unified Court System. These courts have broad jurisdiction and they hear both civil and criminal matters.

On the civil side, the Town and Village Courts hear actions seeking monetary awards up to $3,000 and small claims proceedings for awards up to $3,000. These courts also handle landlord/tenant matters that may result in an eviction as well as a money judgment for back rent that is due.

On the criminal side, these courts are authorized to handle matters involving the prosecution of misdemeanors and violations that are committed within the town's or village's geographic boundaries. The Town and Village Courts also conduct arraignments and preliminary hearings in felony matters. In addition, these courts hear Vehicle and Traffic Law misdemeanors and traffic infractions.

As you can imagine, local courts generate a lot of funds from fees and fines. The NYS Comptrollers website provides annual summary reports of these "Justice Court Funds" going back to 2001. If you go to the website, you can select a county and see how much money came through each justice court annually, broken down by the state, county and local shares. Looking over time it is interesting to note that the bulk of local fines and fees end up going to the State after adjudication, followed by the local share then the county share.

Below are several charts showing the total amounts collected by justice courts for Herkimer and Oneida Counties, as well as the percentage that the State takes from these totals, the county receives, and the local jurisdictions get to keep from their justice courts.

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What seems interesting is the rising share of justice court money that the state of New York continues to take. Whereas in the year 2001 half of the fines and fees collected by justices courts were funneled on through to the state (50% in both Herkimer and Oneida Counties), this percentage has risen considerably. Last year (2013) more than 60% of justice court funds in Oneida County were sent on to the state, while Herkimer County saw 56% of its justice court funds go to the state coffers. Conversely, the local share of these fines and fees dropped off. In Oneida County the local jurisdictions saw their share drop from a high of 42% in 2003 to a low of 33% this past year. Herkimer County justice courts fared somewhat better, although they still saw substantial declines, going from a high of 44% of these revenues in 2008 to 40% last year.