The present-day court structure was established in 1691, when the New York Assembly established the New York Supreme Court of Judicature with the same common law jurisdiction as the King’s Bench, Common Pleas and Exchequer of England. The court was granted jurisdiction in equity in 1846 by statute, taking over equity matters from the Court of Chancery, and became a court of general common law and equity jurisdiction.
The current court structure — made up of 11 separate trial courts with varying jurisdictions — is complex and costly. For example, the Surrogate’s Court, established in 1787, has jurisdiction in probate and administration of estates matters. There is a Surrogate’s Court in each of the sixty-two (62) counties in New York. The Surrogate’s Courts also have concurrent jurisdiction with the Family Courts, over guardianships of the person and property of infants and adoption proceedings. Each county has a separate Family Court. So, there are sixty-two (62) of the courts as well. It is easy to see why any legal proceeding is expensive and the challenge of understanding which court can help you solve a problem.
Like any government agency, the New York State court system has a top executive, the Chief Judge Janet DiFiore. In her February state of the judiciary address, she announced an objective to “modernize” the state’s court system. Since then, many organizations and groups from a wide range of New York life – government groups, advocates against domestic violence, legal service providers, bar associations, community groups, and even private citizens – have banded together to lobby for court simplification.