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Reformation of Justice of the Peace Courts: Case Studies in New York State and the Province of Ontario, Canada

  • Author(s): Lepage, Cory R.
  • Advisor(s): Turk, Austin T
  • et al.
Abstract

Quasi-judicial officers play a large role in court administration and adjudication in the legal systems of both the United States and Canada. While there is a large amount of variation in their titles, (such as magistrate, commissioner, referee, or justice of the peace), quasi or lay judges are widely used in many of the United States and in the Canadian provinces. They generally have a very small and limited scope of authority inclusive of mostly small civil and in some jurisdictions criminal matters, and they customarily operate in rural areas with small populations. While there exists widespread use of these quasi-judicial officers, there exist as well problems with the use of a quasi-judiciary. Policy and legal debates have centered on the use of lay judges with little or no legal training, the selection process of these judges, and the lack of resources tied to limited local funding for these judges. Some suggestions for alleviating the dilemmas associated with quasi-judicial officers involve increasing educational requirements and the resources of the quasi-judges, and additionally choosing these quasi-judges through a merit selection process.

Little empirical research on previous reform efforts for quasi-judicial officers exists among numerous legal opinions that generally either argue for the need of and continued use of these officers or for the abolition of quasi-judicial systems all together. This lack of research makes it difficult to assess the utility of the role that these officers play as well as to determine what types of reform efforts, if any, are needed. This is an empirically grounded examination of recently enacted reform efforts concerning increasing the legitimacy of the power and authority of quasi-judges in the state of New York, and the Canadian province of Ontario. Documentary and interview data are being used to assess the impact of reforms already implemented in these two locations. The policy implications of this work influences the continued use of these quasi-judicial officers who save time and money in an increasingly complex legal system by hearing many of the small civil and criminal cases that would clog the courts of general jurisdiction in their absence.

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