There are five measures on the Nov. 2 ballot that voters will be asked to weigh in on in New York.
Capital Tonight spoke with various advocates and lawmakers for and against each of the proposals to get a sense of what’s at stake. Here, we examine the fifth question.
Ballot Question #5: Increasing the Jurisdiction of the New York City Civil Court
The proposed amendment would increase the New York City Civil Court’s jurisdiction by allowing it to hear and decide claims for up to $50,000 instead of the current jurisdictional limit of $25,000. Shall the proposed amendment be approved?
The only ballot measure for which Capital Tonight couldn’t find any opposition is ballot question #5, which asks voters if they support allowing the New York City Civil Court to expand its jurisdiction over claims from $25,000 to $50,000.
Additionally, proposal #5 was the only constitutional amendment to receive unanimous support from members of the state Legislature.
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One reason may be the measure’s narrow focus: It only affects trial level courts within New York City.
“It would push down into civil court, cases that currently have to be filed in Supreme Court," according to Retired Civil Court Judge of Richmond County Philip Straniere. "The nature of those cases are probably things that shouldn’t be in Supreme Court."
One example that Judge Straniere shared with Capital Tonight has to do with consumer credit card debt.
“If they have debt under $25,000, they file in civil court," he explained. "But if you have credit card debt in excess of $25,000, you go to Supreme Court. What difference does it make if you owe Chase Bank $25,000 or $50,000? It’s the same case.”
But why does such a relatively minor matter need to go to the voters of the state for a constitutional change?
“Anything related to the judiciary in New York is so formulaically in the constitution that it requires an amendment to change it,” attorney and constitutional scholar Christopher Bopst told Capital Tonight.
Bopst, who is an attorney with Wilder & Linneball and the author of several books on the New York state constitution, explained that this isn’t the first time that ballot question #5 has gone before the voters only for it to be voted down.
“The kick in the teeth is that often times, these amendments are proposed and are voted down largely by people whose jurisdiction they won’t even be affected by,” Bopst said. “So, they’ve tried to pass amendments before…and they’ve been voted down, largely by voters in western New York and outside the areas that are being impacted by the changes.”
According to Ballotpedia, voters rejected a constitutional amendment to increase the New York City Civil Court claims jurisdiction from $25,000 to $50,000 in 1995.
The New York State Bar Association is taking no position on this ballot question.