New York Court Records
How Does the New York District Court Work?
New York District Courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction in the Unified Court System. Established in Nassau County and the five western towns of Suffolk County, these courts constitute the local civil and criminal court in these counties. They are otherwise referred to as the people’s courts, so called because they bring justice closer to county residents. Typically, the District courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over:
- Monetary claims where the amount in controversy does not exceed $15,000
- Actions involving the recovery of chattels where the amount sought is not greater than $15,000
- Property proceedings involving the foreclosure of liens where the lien asserted does not surpass $15,000
- Small claims matters (less than $5,000)
- Tenancy and eviction cases involving landlords and tenants
- Misdemeanors and infraction charges
- Felony preliminary and arraignment hearings
- Traffic crimes
- In Suffolk County, prosecution of town ordinance violations
Appeals from the district court are taken to the Appellate Terms of the New York Supreme Court for the Second Department.
The District Courts are not to be confused with the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of New York, whose geographical jurisdiction also includes Nassau and Suffolk counties. Although the district courts operate independently, procedures, practice, and businesses of the courts are conducted in accordance with the Uniform District Court Act (UDC).
The commencement of a civil action in the district court involves the filing of a summon, complaint, or a notice of petition. The clerk date stamps the papers, files the original for record purposes, and returns the copy to the plaintiff. It is also the duty of the clerk to schedule a date for trial, usually 15–30 days from the filing date. The district court has the authority to hold both bench and jury trials (composed of six judges). As such, either party in a case may request a trial by jury. In summary eviction proceedings, the request may be made by the tenant at the time of answering or by the landlord at any time before the trial date.
The District Court’s criminal jurisdiction and practice is prescribed by the state’s criminal procedure law. Misdemeanor offenses may be charged at any venue within the geographical jurisdiction of the district court. All other charges must be tried in the judicial district of the particular county where the alleged offense was committed. Notwithstanding the statewide criminal law, defendants charged with misdemeanor and lesser defendants may be arraigned by mail without any court appearances. Similar to other jurisdictions, criminal trials may be held by a judge or jurors and the court may acquit, penalize, sentence, or place defendants on probation and community service. It is worthy to note that the District Court has no power to punish civil or criminal contempt of court.
In New York, District Court Judgeship positions are filled by partisan contested elections. To be eligible, nominees must be:
- Residents of the county from which they seek office
- Practicing attorneys of the law with at least five years experience
- Non-holder of another public office
Typically, district court judges serve 6-year terms after which they may be re-elected or replaced. The appellate division of the Supreme Court has the power to remove or retire a district court judge for disability after due notice and hearing. Such judicial vacancies are filled by interim judges appointed by the town or city supervisor until the next election takes place.
The length of time a case will take from filing to judgment depends on the case type and other associated circumstances of the case. Typically, civil cases where there are no jury trials are resolved within 30 days from the time when the case is submitted for that purpose. However, a civil case may proceed for a longer time with the consent of the parties. Criminal cases are generally subject to the Federal Speedy Trial Law.
District Courts of Nassau and Suffolk Counties are courts of record. This means that the clerk of court generates, maintains, and releases district court records to interested persons. Querying parties may visit the courthouse in person or send a mail. Generally, the information needed to access specific records include case number, party name, and name of the presiding judge. Requesters may determine the record fee, acceptable payment methods, and other local request guidelines by contacting the courthouse. The District Court locations and contact information are listed below: