By Rafael Hoffman – Hamodia
A bill that amends a long-standing judiciary law that prohibited arbitration proceedings on weekends has been signed into law by the Governor.
The legislation, which was originally sponsored by Senator Simcha Felder (D-Midwood) and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing), will now allow batei din to hear cases on Sundays without the risk that their decisions will be nullified by later actions in secular court, as was the case until now.
The bill easily passed both houses of the legislature this past term. Following its passage, Felder told Hamodia that the new law will not only benefit batei din and those that use them, but many in the state who would prefer to settle disputes through arbitration rather than in courts and that the amendment will also serve to free up a chronically backlogged justice system.
On Monday, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, making it fully legal for batei din and other forums for legal arbitration to hear cases and issue decisions on Sundays, pending the written consent of both litigants.
“This valuable legislation will be tremendously beneficial to many people across New York State, Sen. Felder told Hamodia on Tuesday. “By signing this bill into law yesterday, Governor Cuomo has ensured that countless people who seek justice will have their day in court, on the day of the week that best suits their needs.”
Sen. Felder was first approached on the matter by Rabbi Yaakov Feinzig, an attorney who leads Bais Din Tzedek u’Mishpat, which was founded by Harav Yisrael Belsky, zt”l. The statute has been a challenge for some time for those dealing with dinei Torah.
Decisions of a beis din are recognized as legally binding arbitration. However, in many cases, aspects of their decisions can end up before secular courts to ensure enforcement or for other reasons. In such cases, if one party could prove that any part of the arbitration was held on a Sunday, it could be invalidated.
While many judges declined to enforce the statute, others did, hence invalidating the rulings of batei din.
Many batei din have avoided taking cases on Sundays, which often makes it difficult for litigants to appear.
The law stems from a larger set of statutes, known as “blue laws,” that prohibit certain business-related activities on Sundays in deference to the Christian day of rest. Many have been amended or done away with in recent decades, but others, such as the arbitration law, remain.
The legislation leaves the law in place, but makes an exception for cases where both litigants sign a waiver saying that they consent to the proceedings taking place on Sunday; a move that Rabbi Fenzig noted respects the original intent of the law.
“We are extremely glad to see this amendment become law,” Assemblyman Simanowitz told Hamodia. “By allowing all New Yorkers the right to seek justice in a legitimate and recognized legal setting, we open the doors of justice to our entire community. I was glad to work with Senator Felder, and my colleague Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, to help make this a life-changing reality for our constituents.”