The civil court of Bronx County: An inquiry into judicial decision-making

Rosario J Girasa, Fordham University


The Bronx Civil Court was the focus of an examination of judicial decision-making at the trial level. It is an extremely active urban court which disposes of many thousands of cases in any given year. After noting that almost all studies of judicial decision-making concerned appellate courts, particularly the U.S. Supreme Court, it was suggested that the study of local trial courts were few in number because it differed substantially from other courts. Lack of reasoned opinions and other objective data made analysis of decisions by other scholars very difficult to undertake. The methodology which enables investigators to study local trial courts effectively is participant observation. The observer, by an immersion into the court process, is able to conduct formal interviews, interact with judges at conferences and other unrecorded activity and assess influences which affect the outcome of cases. It was discovered that there were major and minor influences which modified and altered the behavior of judges. The internal influences were three-fold: (1) judges and courts superior in rank to Civil Court judges; (2) fellow judges on the Court; and (3) support services including administrative personnel. The external influences which were investigated were political parties, insurance companies and bar associations. The major internal influence was a person, namely, the Administrative Judge. Due to his insistence on disposing of as many cases as possible by threats and other means, judges were compelled to eliminate thoughtful and well-reasoned opinions. A major external influence which inhibited judicial decision-making was the role of political parties. Judges, being elected officials, were forced to participate in the political process. Engaging in political campaigns or seeking favors in the hope of attaining higher judicial office often caused judges to compromise decisions in favor of satisfying political debts. The major external influence was discovered to be insurance companies. By possessing the power to settle cases and thereby enable judges to gain favorable statistical dispositions to satisfy the demands of the Administrative Judge, these companies were able to cause judges to sacrifice a large measure of their independence. Bar associations, however, appeared to have considerably less influence than insurance companies.

Subject Area

Public administration|Law

Recommended Citation

Girasa, Rosario J, "The civil court of Bronx County: An inquiry into judicial decision-making" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809470.