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How Does City Courts in New York Work?

There are 61 City Courts in New York, established in each county outside New York City. The City Court’s territorial jurisdiction extends to certain criminal offenses and civil claims within the corporate limits of the city. The court, although part of the state’s unified court system, is a local court and its judicial procedures are governed by locally-constituted laws. The court judges hear civil cases where the amount of the claim does not exceed $15,000. Some city courts have small claims parts tasked with hearing civil suits where the amount in controversy is $5,000 or less.

The City Court, irrespective of the amount in controversy, does not handle cases involving titles and immovable properties, a case involving the right of public office, or matters involving liquidation, succession, interdiction, or receivership. It is also important to note that liability cases where the defendant is the city or county government are not within the jurisdiction of the City Court.

The city court’s criminal jurisdiction includes alleged violations of any state Misdemeanor Laws and other violations of city ordinances within the geographical jurisdiction of the court. City Court judges also hold arraignment and preliminary hearings for felony offenses before transferring them to a state criminal court with competent authority over such cases. The essence of a preliminary hearing is to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for the defendant to stand trial. The legal standard for a preliminary hearing is “probable cause” and the assigned judge’s role is not to determine whether the defendant is guilty of the alleged charges.

Every city court in New York has a Court Administrator. The role of the Chief Administrator is to designate terms of courts, establish parts of courts, and maintain the individual assignment system. In practice, the clerk of city courts is responsible for assigning filed cases to judges pursuant to a method of selection prescribed by the Chief Administrator. The administrator, in turn, coins an assignment system to be able to monitor and continuously supervise all civil actions and proceedings handled by single judges.

The procedure for selecting City Court judges in New York is either by appointment or election—depending on the municipality. Typically, the city judgeship elections are partisan and contested. Similar to every elected position, nominees are required to win at both the primary elections and general elections levels. The Uniform City Court Act § 2104 mandates that nominees and acting city court judges must be licensed, practicing lawyers with at least 5 years experience. They must also reside in the city from which the judgeship is sought. The exceptions to this residency eligibility criteria include:

  • Sherrill City Court judges may live anywhere in Madison or Oneida Counties
  • The judge serving in the office that was formerly used by the acting judge of Oneida City Court can live in Madison County
  • Peekskill City Court judges may live anywhere in Westchester County
  • The City Judge serving in the office that was previously used by the acting judge of the Port Jervis City Court may live anywhere in Orange or Sullivan Counties
  • Hudson City Court judges may live anywhere in Columbia County
  • The judge serving in the office that was formerly that of the acting judge of the Mechanicville City Court may live anywhere in the County of Saratoga
  • Ogdensburg City Court judges may live anywhere in the County of St. Lawrence
  • Rensselaer City Court judges may live in Rensselaer County
  • One judge of the Cohoes City Court and the city court judge serving in the office that was formerly used by the acting judge of the Watervliet City Court may live in any city in Albany County

Generally, city court judges in New York excluding New York City must abide by the rules governing judicial conduct (22 NYCRR Part 100). These rules recite the basic qualities of a judge such as integrity, propriety, and impartiality.

The applicable City Mayor is responsible for appointing interim judges in cases of judicial vacancy. These appointees will later run for elections to maintain their positions.

To request a record from the City Court, requesting parties may be requested from the court clerk’s office in person or by mail. All requests must be in writing and must contain specific details needed to find and locate records of interest. Typically, the application should be for a specific record and must match the court’s indexing system.

In New York, publicly available City Court documents are available to almost everyone, free of charge. However, the clerk of court may charge nominal fees for copying requested documents. Additional record fees are listed below:

  • Transcript of civil court judgment - $6
  • Certificate of Disposition (civil) - $6
  • Exemplified Copy - $15
  • Certificate of Disposition/Conviction (criminal) - $5

The physical locations, mailing addresses, and contact details of City Courts in New York outside New York City are available on the New York Court Locator page featured by the New York State Judiciary.

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