New York County Lawyers’ Association
14 Vesey Street New York, NY 10007
Pamela B. Yaeger (212) 267-6646, ext. 225
Communications Manager firstname.lastname@example.org
NYCLA Opposes 2003 Budget Bill
Provision Denying Jury Trial
Bill Would Create Double Standard and Impinge on Constitutional Rights
NEW YORK, April 10, 2003 The New York County Lawyers’ Association (NYCLA) today urged Governor Pataki to remove the provisions from the 2003 Budget Bill that would transfer significant cases from the Supreme Court to the Court of Claims and deny injured persons the right to a jury trial.
In the 2003 Budget Bill (Assembly 2106 and Senate 1406), the Governor has attached a provision that provides for the exclusive jurisdiction in the Court of Claims for actions involving New York City public hospitals, public schools, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York City Housing Authority, and CUNY colleges.
Under the proposal, all such cases would be heard by politically appointed Court of Claims judges, sitting without a jury, instead of the existing civil justice system with a jury of one’s peers.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association strongly opposes this constitutionally dubious action, which will deprive a great and unequal segment of our population of a trial by jury. The present system has carefully constructed safeguards to protect all litigants from abuse or excessive sympathy-driven verdicts. Included in these safeguards are review by the trial judge, the Appellate Divisions and the Court of Appeals, where necessary. Furthermore, the cry that trial lawyers unduly influence results ignores the fact that in the existing system, competent counsel represent both sides.
NYCLA President Michael Miller stated, “We believe that a trial by jury is the cornerstone of the American and New York State constitutions and depriving people of this right is a substantial loss. Further, while NYCLA has long supported court restructuring, restructuring courts by attaching a budget rider is inappropriate. Court reform should be the subject of public scrutiny and debate. It is inappropriate to hide a substantial public policy matter in a budget bill without a thorough public discussion of these substantial issues. “
While cognizant of the State’s and the City’s current budget problems, NYCLA notes that there is little empirical evidence that tort verdicts against the particular public entities affected by the bill rider have increased dramatically since the State’s and the City’s current budget problems began. Statistics show that personal injury claims against the City have remained relatively stable over most of the last decade, and average payouts have markedly decreased since the early 1990s. New York remains a relatively conservative jurisdiction when it comes to jury awards, and our judges consistently reduce verdicts that they believe to be excessive.
The New York County Lawyers’ Association was founded 95 years ago as the first major bar association in the country that admitted members without regard to race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Since its inception, NYCLA has pioneered some of the most far-reaching and tangible reforms in American jurisprudence and has continuously played an active role in legal developments and public policy.