New York County, New York City, New York State

Ferg writes:

The New York Daily News says:

“The ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman says that city can stop protesters from bringing tents, tarps and other camping equipment into the park.”

Manhattan has a Supreme Court with Justices? A city? Or rather one part of a city? I have never heard of this. States of course, but one borough of a city? How come?

LA replies:

Manhattan is its own county, as is each of the other boroughs of New York City. As far as I know, New York is the only city in America which is made up of counties. This happened because the present New York City was created by annexing more boroughs to it. Originally, New York City was co-extensive with Manhattan. Then Brooklyn and other boroughs, each of which was a county in its own right, were gradually joined with it and became boroughs of the city of New York. However, there is no county of “Manhattan.” The name of the county in Manhattan is New York County.

The Supreme Court is the lowest level of the state court system in New York State—another oddity. Also, the highest court in New York State is the Court of Appeals.

But—getting back to your question—there is no such thing as a “Manhattan Supreme Court.” The proper name for it is the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County. Calling it the Manhattan Supreme Court is sloppy writing, like calling John McCain an “Arizona senator” instead of a United States senator for the state of Arizona.

- end of initial entry -

Daniel F. writes:

While most of what you say is correct, I would point out two minor inaccuracies.

As I understand it, the Bronx was not its own county before being annexed to NY City; rather, it was the southern part of Westchester County. When the City was consolidated (in 1898, I think), the Bronx was sawed off of Westchester, Bronx County was created, and made part of the City of NY. However, each of the other four boroughs was, as you say, a county before the consolidation.

While the Supreme Court in each county is a trial level court, it is not the lowest level of the court system. The lower levels include Civil Court (which hears mostly landlord-tenant disputes and disputes whose value falls below the Supreme Court minimum jurisdictional amount) and Criminal Court, which handles minor criminal matters, and Family Court, which handles juvenile delinquency cases and parental rights matters. The logic of New York’s use of the name “Supreme Court” is that Supreme Court is the highest court of original jurisdiction, i.e., where cases originate and are tried. Also, technically, the intermediate appellate court is part of Supreme Court—it is called the “Appellate Division” of Supreme Court. The highest court, as I’m sure you know, is the Court of Appeals.

Incidentally, if you’re unhappy about using the name “Supreme Court” for a trial court (a terminology that goes back to the 19th century in this state), you have good company. The NY Times regularly bewails this usage and calls for changing it as part of “court reform.”

LA replies:

Right—it is “supreme” in relation to the local jurisdiction, whence comes its name, but it is the lowest in relation to the state court system.

However, I have no problem with the name Supreme Court, any more than I have a problem with the pronunciation of Houston Street (for non-New Yorkers, it’s pronounced “house-ton,” not like Houston, Texas).

I didn’t know that about the Bronx.

Daniel F. writes:

I am not sure what you mean by saying in your reply that the Supreme Ct of NY State is “the lowest in relation to the state court system.” All of the other courts I mentioned (Civil, Criminal, Family) are parts of the NY state court system, and they are lower levels than Supreme Ct, which hears cases involving the most serious crimes, the highest-value civil disputes and the most aggressive remedies (e.g., injunctions). It is true that Supreme Ct is the lowest ct level for cases that originate there—the cases go only to higher levels on appeal, obviously—but that strikes me as a tautology.

LA replies:

Point taken. Then the Supreme Court is “lower” in relation to the higher courts in the state court system.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at November 16, 2011 08:29 AM | Send

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