Sprawling Court System A Quirk of Queens Past

By David Brand

With nearly 2.4 million residents dealing with countless issues, Queens was destined to have a vast legal system. But, as anyone who has traveled from Laurelton to Long Island City for early morning jury duty can attest, it certainly is sprawling too.

 Official Queens historian Jack Eichenbaum. Photo courtesy of Flushing Chamber of Commerce.

Official Queens historian Jack Eichenbaum. Photo courtesy of Flushing Chamber of Commerce.

The reason, said Queens historian Jack Eichenbaum, 75, lies in Queens’ history, unique among the five boroughs.

“The idea of consolidating anything in Queens has been very difficult because of the history of Queens being seen as different neighborhoods,” Eichenbaum said. “It’s only in the last 40 to 50 years that people even related to saying, ‘I live in Queens.’ When I was a young man, people said, ‘I live in a specific neighborhood.’”

Eichenbaum was born and raised in Bayside and remembers when his address was written on mail as: “Bayside, Long Island, NY.”

Though the four other boroughs feature designated downtown areas and specific courthouse zones, Queens is a bit more complicated.

The location of the Civil Supreme Court building at Court Square was based on transportation convenience, Eichenbaum said.

“Long Island City was the easiest place to get to from all of queens because the Long Island Railroad went through there,” he said.

“Later it shifted to Mineola,” back when Queens County included much of modern Nassau County, he said.

Imagine that commute to court.

“And then when I was growing up, the most important place in Queens was Jamaica,” he said. “Queens Borough Hall was built in the 1930s along the IRT line and that’s when they built civil court.”

Since then, Eichenbaum said he knew of no legitimate effort to consolidate all the courts in one place, a Queens quirk that certainly makes the borough different from the rest.

“I’ve served jury duty in Long Island City, Jamaica and Kew Gardens,” Eichenbaum said. “Queens is unique.”