Bedford Town Justice Court, Explained

October 18, 2021

The Record-Review

By Clark Petschek

As a candidate for Bedford Town Justice, I am often asked to explain the role and responsibilities of our town court.

Bedford’s Court is one of almost 1,300 Justice Courts in New York which are part of the Unified Court System, the state’s judicial branch of government. Justice Courts play a vital role in the adjudication of civil and criminal matters, and collectively they handle almost 2 million cases each year.

The Justice Court in Bedford is presided over by two part-time, elected judges. Interestingly, judges in the Justice Courts – who are referred to as justices – are not required to be lawyers. New York’s practice of permitting non-attorneys to serve as justices is a vestige of an earlier era when lawyers and law schools were scarce. In fact, seven other states also allow non-attorney judges to preside over certain lower courts.

Justice Courts exercise limited jurisdiction over criminal and civil matters. On the civil side, they adjudicate actions and small claims that seek monetary awards of no more than $3,000. Notably, small claims proceedings are intended to provide a low-cost and informal forum to resolve civil disputes. Small claims litigants are not required to be represented by legal counsel and often choose not to be. On the criminal side, Justice Courts handle cases involving the prosecution of misdemeanors, violations, and traffic infractions committed within the geographic boundaries of the town. On felony matters, justices conduct arraignments and preliminary hearings before transferring those cases to a superior court (usually the County Court). Justices are also empowered to issue orders of protection and certain emergency orders when other courts are not in session. Finally, Justice Courts hold jurisdiction over landlord-tenant disputes as well as violations of town ordinances that are subject to civil penalties.

Bedford’s Justice Court is an integral part of New York’s judicial system and an essential venue at the town level for the resolution of legal disputes and the administration of justice in accordance with the law.

Clark Petschek, who is running for Bedford Town Justice on the Republican and Bedford United party lines, is a longtime Bedford resident who has practiced law for 20 years as a trial attorney, transactional lawyer and hearing officer for New York State.