Today's New York Times features an investigation of the state's bizarre system of town and village courts:
Nearly three-quarters of the judges are not lawyers, and many — truck drivers, sewer workers or laborers — have scant grasp of the most basic legal principles. Some never got through high school, and at least one went no further than grade school.
But serious things happen in these little rooms all over New York State. People have been sent to jail without a guilty plea or a trial, or tossed from their homes without a proper proceeding. In violation of the law, defendants have been refused lawyers, or sentenced to weeks in jail because they cannot pay a fine. Frightened women have been denied protection from abuse.
By shining a light on the state's outdated and dysfunctional system of local justice (read the article for many horrifying anecdotes), the Times may prompt some long-overdue reform. It's the kind of long-form investigative journalism that newspapers do best.