Lots of math here, so pay attention:
While p. 4 of the 2008 Action Plan Two-Year Update claims that “new non-attorney justices now receive seven weeks of “pre-bench” training, consisting of alternating periods of at-home assignments (a total of five weeks) and classroom training (a total of two weeks),” I could find nothing to prove when or how this is accomplished. In fact, all I could find were registration papers confirming a 56-hour, 8-day “certification” course offered for the spring of 2013 (recently upgraded from the 6-day session mandated in 2012):
which confirms that, a full 5 years after the Update, non-attorney town and village justices “will receive their certification to assume the bench” after only an 8-day “basic certification course,” upon the completion of which, by law (Section 17.2(a)),
“certification shall be issued which shall be valid until the next available advanced course” [emphasis mine]
which really means nothing, because if His or Her Honor isn’t “available” for the next “advanced course,” attendance can theoretically be postponed until (s)he finds it Honorably Convenient To Become Available since, according to Section 17.2(d) ,
“The Chief Administrator may issue temporary certificates to nonlawyer justices which shall be valid until the time of the next available course.” [again, emphasis mine]
leaving us to wonder what this 7-week “pre-bench” training is and how (and when) it figures into His (and Her) Honorable Edjumication…
Well, there’s little to wonder about in the 8-day certification. Here the Honorable Wannabe’s are forced to work tirelessly for 7.5 hours a day for 7 whole days, starting at the crack of 8:15 – 8:30 a.m. (assuming a half-hour break for lunch) plus 3.5 hours on Day 8. But how do these 56 hours translate into “credit hours,” which is how academia measures learning? For that we look to the American Bar Association,
which mandates that each “credit hour” shall consist of 700 minutes of instruction. This translates into a minimum of 83 credit hours before one can read and interpret the law according to ABA standards (although most law schools require around 90 credit hours just to graduate)…and none of this includes time spent in home study, homework, writing papers, or taking exams. Many law schools divide these 83 credit hours into classes of 2 or 3 credit hours each while others use a different formula, but no matter how you cut it up, all the calculations must add up to an 83 credit-hour equivalent of 58,000 minutes.
So, 56 hours of attendance divided over 8 days provides Your Honor and Mine with 3360 minutes of edjumication (2688, if one attends only the 80% of the classwork as mandated by law) and results in an equivalent of about 4.8 law school credits. In ABA parlance, this is akin to attending, say, an introductory course in criminal law (3 credits at Wayne State Law School, a tier 3 school in Detroit that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get into or a lottery winner to pay for) but walking out on another on legal research and writing (2 credits) before taking the final exam. I don’t know about you, but I am beginning feel a little nauseous.
Ah, but what about those annual and pesky 12 hours of study required by the OCA? (This is in the 2006 Action Plan and required by statute, but I couldn’t find much about it in the 2008 Update). Again, using the ABA model, these 720 minutes per year add the rough equivalent of one (1) single law-school credit hour, except they don’t quite constitute a “credit hour” They are more like two unrelated half-credit hours (remember? 360 of these minutes can be done from home…). So, depending upon what topics are chosen for study, it would take anywhere from 3 to 6 years for the annual study mandate to provide the education equivalent of one (1) law school class of 3 credit hours.
Returning to the Honorable Wayne County Court that started all this, I recall the presiding justice telling me that His Honorable Butt has occupied the bench for 27 years, during which time (I assume) he has been fully compliant with OCA training mandates. OMG! No wonder he couldn’t figure out VTL 1229c! Because, if my math is correct, 6 days of initial training — which was all that was required of The Honorable Class of 1986 — plus 12 hours a year times 27 years equals the ABA equivalent of only 31.8 credit hours, which is nowhere near the minimum of 83 required in order to even begin practicing law — And we don’t know if the OCA counts things that the ABA says they shouldn’t, like test-taking and homework, or if it counts time spent learning such things as where Your Honorably Reserved Parking Space is or how to let yourself into the courthouse without setting off the alarm. In any event, what 31.8 credit hours gets you is, inter alia and with the blessing of the State of New York, The Honorable I’m-Not-Telling-You-His-Name-For-Obvious-Reasons, who began his unlicensed practice of law with the equivalent of a course-and-a-half of undergraduate legal training and who is now approaching retirement without even half of the education one would expect from a brand-new, greenhorn attorney just out of law school…<shaking head in disbelief and running, not walking, to the county appeals court>
So, what if the OCA stumbles upon this site, becomes duly enraged thereby, and knocks over the big pile of papers on their desk (which in turn spills their coffee) in their haste to send me a letter, by certified and regular mail, threatening The Wrath of Their Smarmy Attorney (or Deputy Sheriff Br***s), unless I inform John Q Public forthwith that His (and Her) Non-Attorney Honors aren’t let loose upon the unsuspecting public until they have accumulated a full 7 weeks of edjumication? Well, they can avoid all that spilt-coffee mess because I will beat them to it and tell you right now that, calculated on five 7.5 hour days per week x 7 weeks, this represents the equivalent of only 22.5 credit hours — certainly an improvement over 4.8 but still epic fail…why? because it is just about what a law student learns in not quite 1.5 semesters of coursework, the completion of which qualifies said student to be only a first-year law student and not a judge. Besides, there is nothing “pre-bench” about training that by mandate (last 2 sentences of Section 17.2(a), below) occurs after the “certificate to assume the bench” is issued and filed, which we all know by now takes only 8 days to accomplish. And, let’s not forget that after 27 years of following OCA mandates, These Honors, too, would approach retirement without ever having acquired the legal knowledge they should have (but never) started out with– they would, in fact, end their Honorable Careers with only 50.2% of a basic law-school education…half of what the ABA feels is necessary just to begin practicing law…I’m feeling pretty sick to my stomach right now, how ’bout you?
But wait, there’s more:
Take the number of traffic (and other) “infractions” that His Edjumicated Honor judged as ineptly as he did mine and add up The Not-So-Honorable Fines appended thereto. I predict the annual sum total will be large enough to make the treasurer of this rural lakeside community hope that more short people travel through it more often. Factor in the mandatory state surcharges generated thereby, and you will understand why Albany, too, smiles upon this Wayne County court, while those of us who have experienced the “integrity” preserved within Its Honorable Halls and Side Room are still shuddering. Then, I double-dog dare you to add that number to the revenue generated by 72% of the approximately 1276 other town and village courts in this state, whose presiding justices have similar training, and I promise you that the significant dollar amounts haphazardly produced thereby will impress your friends, confound your enemies, astonish all skeptics, and forever condemn any meaningful Action Plan reform, thus guaranteeing that We the People will continue to pay many times over for the (in)justice handed out by these “courts closest to the people”ad infinitum…
Oooooo, I really don’t feel well. I better go lie down for a while…Tums, anyone?