City, Town, and Village Courts in New York State essentially entertain the same types of cases including traffic, small claims, landlord tenant disputes, violations, misdemeanors, and felony preliminary hearings. To qualify to be a City Court judge in New York, you would need to be a member of the New York bar and have practiced law in New York for at least five years. To be a Town or Village justice, you would only need to be a resident of the town or village, be at least 18, and not have committed a felony. In New York State 72% of the Town and Village Justices are not lawyers. Many are quite smart and well educated.
The County in which I live is investigating whether to seek legislation reforming this system. The Town and Village judges argue that the current system has worked for more than a century, that they are elected, that they work hard and have completed the training offered by the state and continue to update that training, that they are the judges “closest to the people,” and that because they are close to their constituents, they bring a degree of common sense to the problems they adjudicate that is not shared by lawyers.
I testified before the Tompkins County Municipal Courts Task Force yesterday. My views are at this link. http://www.tompkinscountyny.gov/files/tccog/Shared_Services/Municipal_Courts_Task_Force/Stakeholder_Input/Prof.%20Steven%20Shiffrin%20Testimony%2010.14.15.pdf