In New York State, the Supreme Court is the trial level court where litigants typically file actions to litigate matters requesting damages in excess of $25,000.00. For matters seeking damages between $5,000.00 and $25,000.00, in Nassau County and Suffolk County, a litigant would file a claim in the District Court, and in New York City, a litigant would file a claim in Civil Court. For cases seeking damages up to $5,000.00, a litigant may file their claim in Small Claims Court. Many clients what to talk to the judge to explain why they should win, the fact is courts have rules, policies, and procedures. While individuals may believe that they will have an opportunity to go before a judge, and immediately plead their case, other than small claims court, there are ordinarily numerous steps that must be taken before a judge will become involved in a matter.
The first step to litigating a case is the filing and serving of a Summons and Complaint. The Complaint sets forth the factual allegations and requests legal relief based upon the factual allegations in the Complaint. The Summons notifies the defendant of the commencement of an action. After the filing and serving of the Summons and Complaint, the defendant will have an opportunity to file and serve an Answer. Should the defendant have any counterclaims or defenses, they will plead them in the Answer. An Answer with counterclaims will generally result in the plaintiff filing a Reply to such counterclaims. Since the parties will have either 20 or 30 days (depending on if this is civil or Supreme Court) from the date of completed service to file an Answer and Reply, if not personally served, it could potentially take two months before the pleadings have been fully filed and served.
Simply because the pleadings have been filed and served does not result in the parties going to court or appearing before a judge. In order to have a judge assigned to a case, a Request for Judicial Intervention must be filed and served. Ordinarily, a Request for Judicial Intervention is accompanied by a Request for a Preliminary Conference or a motion. After filing a Request for Judicial Intervention and Request for Preliminary Conference, the Court will issue a Preliminary Conference Order, which sets a date for the Preliminary Conference. At the Preliminary Conference, the Court issues a Preliminary Conference Order, which establishes a discovery schedule, such as dates that the exchange of discovery and inspection, interrogatories, and conducting depositions must take place. Although the Preliminary Conference Order is issued by the Judge, it is not uncommon for the Preliminary Conference to occur without the involvement of a judge. Further, even if a judge becomes involved in the Preliminary Conference, they will likely not wish to discuss the merits of the case at that time. Accordingly, litigants that are eager to explain their side of the case to the judge will be sorely disappointed at the Preliminary Conference.
Should a litigant seek some sort of relief during the course of the proceedings, a motion will likely be filed. While some judges and litigants will request oral argument for a motion, or that a conference is held to discuss the matter, many judges will decide the motion based solely on the submitted papers. Thus, a litigant that desires to explain everything in the motion to the judge, in person, will not have such an opportunity in many cases.
During the course of court proceedings, there are multiple court conferences to maintain the discovery schedules and the flow of the case. While some judges will conference a case with counsel, it is not uncommon for the judge’s law secretary (a lawyer working for the judge) to conference the matter. As such, explaining matters directly to the judge at a court conference is not always possible. In addition, the judge’s that do conference matters directly with counsel often times are seeking ways to settle the underlying disputes in a case or resolving discovery issues. Further, the overwhelming majority of these court conferences are done in chambers, off the record.
Should a matter proceed to trial, the Judge will preside over the matter. Depending on the type of case being litigated, the judge may be the finder of fact, or a jury may be the finder of fact. Should the case be tried before a jury, the judge’s role will be to ensure that the legal rules and processes are being complied with, and the jury will be required to determine the factual disputes of the case. It is not uncommon for it to take a few years between the time a case is commenced to the time the case is tried in a New York Supreme Court.
Being that the process of litigating a matter in Supreme Court is time-consuming, the legislature has recognized that certain types of cases are not practical to resolve in Supreme Court, and as such, separate tribunals have been established to expedite these matters. For example, if a tenant fails to pay rent, and a landlord seeks to evict a tenant based upon the non-payment of rent, it would be inequitable to make the landlord wait years before a case could go to trial without receiving any rent during such an extended period of time. As such, special housing courts have been established in New York, which deal only with Landlord-Tenant disputes. In the housing courts, discovery must be requested by a litigant and granted by the court. In the vast majority of cases, there is no discovery and no exchange of documents or taking of depositions. Further, adjournments are limited and a case will typically be set down for trial after two to three court appearances should the litigants be unable to resolve the matter. Accordingly, landlord-tenant matters are usually resolved anywhere from days or a matter of months, as opposed to years.
Should you require assistance in a legal matter, in any of New York’s courts, the Siegel Law Firm, P.C. is here to assist you. We welcome your questions and offer a free 30-minute consultation by calling (844) 522-4LAW or emailing us at [email protected].
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