Opinion 92-21

This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

FEES -- Justice Courts (mass dismissal of cases - entitlement to fees under General Municipal Law, §99-l)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §99-l: When a town or village justice court reports the mass dismissal of numerous pending cases brought under the Vehicle and Traffic Law which have never been prosecuted, the town or village is not entitled to receive a fee under this section for each individual case.

You have asked if towns and villages are entitled to the payment of fees pursuant to section 99-l of the General Municipal Law in situations where a town or village court has reported the mass dismissal of numerous charges pending for violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. In presenting this question, you have described situations where town or village courts have reported to the Justice Court Fund the dismissal, by single judgment or by a series of identical judgments made and entered at the same time, of hundreds of such charges. Dismissals in these situations involve charges which have never been prosecuted. Typically, the charges have been pending for several years and the dismissal is made in the interest of justice.

In pertinent part, General Municipal Law, §99-l, provides:

Towns and villages, for their own respective benefits shall be entitled to receive for the services of the town court and the village court in criminal actions and other proceedings:

(a) for all services in each case of a misdemeanor or other offenses, including misdemeanors and moving violations under the vehicle and traffic law, instituted in and triable in such a court, wherein a fine, if imposed, would be the property of the state, ten dollars.

To our knowledge, section 99-l, insofar as it relates to this question, has not been judicially interpreted. The obvious purpose of the statute, however, is to provide remuneration to towns and villages for the services rendered by their courts in the prosecution of criminal charges, including violations of the Vehicle and Traffic Law. The fines, penalties and forfeitures collected in the prosecution of these charges, if any, are paid to the State. In the absence of the directions for payment contained in section 99-l, the towns and villages would receive no direct compensation for the Court's services.

The present procedure, by which a single fee is paid for each case, originated with the enactment of Laws of 1947, chapter 708. Commenting on this legislation, the Comptroller stated:

The amendment will establish a five dollar fee for all cases in which any substantial service is performed in criminal cases (Hon. Frank C. Moore, Memorandum to the Gov. Thomas E. Dewey, re: Senate Patro. 141, Pr. 141, 3/31/47; emphasis added).

In the situations you have described, the Courts, in our opinion, have not provided "services in each case" as envisioned by the statute. Indeed, for whatever reasons, the Courts have failed or have been prevented from providing any substantial services and are now required for legal and administrative reasons to dismiss the cases en masse. With mass dismissals, there is no thoughtful treatment of each case. The Courts in these situations are moved primarily by administrative housekeeping considerations, rather than motivated by efforts to reach a proper adjudication of the merits of the charges before them.

Accordingly, upon the above considerations, we conclude that the Justice Court Fund may no longer pay the ten dollar fee fixed by section 99-l for each case dismissed in situations when the dismissals are, as described, done en masse.

July 29, 1992
Melvin I. Rosenblat, Director
Justice Court Fund