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"'People's Court' Hit Hard" says RCBA President, Robert A. Mulhall.

posted May 1, 2012, 9:03 AM by Pete Weinman   [ updated May 13, 2015, 12:50 PM by Lou Bara ]

New York Law Journal

Robert A. Mulhall

New York Law Journal

05-01-2012


The "social contract" doctrine of philosopher John Locke is incorporated into our Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. John Locke's belief that "where there is no law, there is no freedom" so inspired our founding fathers that the judiciary—the courts that determine the rights and obligations of parties—was made a coequal branch of our government. Today, however, budget cuts imposed upon the courts by the other branches of government have cast a pall on the justice and freedom that emanate from those courts.

A telling example can be found in the Small Claims Part of the New York City Civil Court. Small Claims is called the "People's Court" because it is the venue where people, usually without attorneys, come to seek redress of their legal grievances. On Staten Island, the Small Claims Court has been reduced from every Thursday evening to only one Thursday evening a month, and the calendar for that Thursday evening is capped at one hundred cases. The result is that where formerly a small claims matter would be placed on the calendar within six weeks, it is now lucky to be placed on the calendar within four months. Yes, there is also a small claims calendar on Friday mornings on Staten Island, but most people cannot afford to take off from work to pursue their legal rights in the Small Claims Part.

Additionally, while the evening session of Small Claims Court has many volunteer arbitrators, most attorneys who arbitrate small claims matters on Thursday evening cannot make that same sacrifice on a Friday morning. The legal maxim "Justice delayed is Justice denied" recognizes that when the people believe that their legal rights cannot be adjudicated in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no legal rights at all. If the people perceive that there are no courts to determine their legal rights and obligations, there is no justice, and no freedom.

Robert A. Mulhall, President of the Richmond County Bar Association, practices personal injury law on Staten Island.



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