New York State CourtsSince the early 1960s the courts of New York State have operated under a 'unified' system that provides for the same administration of justice across the entire state. In Marc Bloustein's excellent "A Short History of the New York State Court System", we get a very good summary of the state of New York state courts prior to unification (emphasis added):
In 1962, then, the New York court system looked like this: there were 11 separate trial courts: (1) a statewide Supreme Court that could hear all manner of civil and criminal cases (although, in practice, outside New York City it would act primarily as a civil court); (2) a statewide Court of Claims that could hear claims brought against the State; (3) a Surrogate’s Court in each of the State’s 62 counties that could supervise the administration of estates; (4) a Family Court in each of the State’s 57 counties outside New York City and a Family Court for New York City; (5) a County Court in each of the 57 upstate counties that could hear criminal cases and modest civil cases (although, in practice, County Court would serve as the major upstate criminal court); (6) a New York City-wide civil court to hear modest civil cases, small claims and landlord and tenant matters in the City; (7) a New York City-wide criminal court to handle cases involving lesser crimes in the City; (8) a District Court that could be set up in any county or portion of a county and that within its geographical embrace could hear the same small cases heard in the New York City-wide courts; (9) City Courts in each of the State’s 61 cities outside New York City that, within their individual geographical embraces, could act like a District Court; and, lastly, some 2,500 town and village courts that also could act like a District Court.
Though not mentioned in the article, to this list can be added a number of New York City-wide criminal courts. Before 1962 in the five boroughs, the New York County Court of General Sessions and the County Court in the other four boroughs had superior criminal jurisdiction. New York City courts responsible for inferior criminal jurisdiction were the Court of Special Sessions and the Magistrates' Courts, the successor to the "police courts".
It should also be noted that the New York City Family court per se was created in 1962 from the Domestic Relations Court (1933-1962), itself a union of the early Family Court and Children's Court. The civil court for New York City also includes a designated housing part, known familiarly as Housing Court, which handles the 'landlord and tenant' cases cited above.
Also not singled out in this review are the state's highest courts. Unlike most states, the highest court is not the Supreme Court but the Court of Appeals, which takes cases from the next highest court, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. There are four regional departments of the Appellate Division, located in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Albany and Rochester. The Appellate Division in turn hears cases from the Supreme Court as well as other specialized trial courts, such as the Surrogate's Court, Family Court, County Court, and Court of Claims.
This gives us a leg up in identifying possible judicial plate types prior to the unification and, not coincidentally, their standardization on New York State license plates. Following unification new plate types were created to serve nearly every level of the state's judicial system.
Judicial License Plates
The first distinctive plates issued to judges were undoubtedly from the all-numeric Official allotment, beginning in 1922. If there was a standard allotment from the Official series specifically for judges, we don't know what it was. The statewide judges (and justices) would have been issued from the lower-numbered state allotment, with local court judges issued plates from the higher-numbered allotment.
The earliest known plates issued specifically for a judge were for Supreme Court judges, verified as far back as 1934. Plates for Appellate Division judges were issued AD prefix plates as early as 1939, switching to ADJ in 1942. As early as 1940 (and most likely 1939) the SJ prefix was used for Surrogates Court judges.
The CJ prefix was used, officially or unofficialy, for various judges throughout the forties and fifties, including city and county court judges. MJ prefix plates were probably issued for both municipal and magistrate court judges, again more unofficially than officially. Given the popularity of surnames like Jones and Johnson, it may be more likely they were straight out vanities.
Probably as early as 1948 plates were issued for judges in the two New York City criminal courts: those of the Court of General Sessions, which sported JGS-prefix plates, and JSS-prefix plates for those in the Court of Special Sessions. Plates for City and County Court judges were first issued in 1955. Plates for judges sitting on the Domestic Court, precursor to Family Court, are mentioned as early as 1956.
It was not until after the reorganization of the courts that plates first appear for the remaining state courts: Civil and Criminal Court plates in 1964 or 1966; plates for member of the Court of Appeals some time in the 1960s; and District Court judges and the Court of Claims either in the 1960s or as late as the 1970s.
New York is also the home to several Federal courts, whose judges by now all sport distinctive license plates. Judges of the Federal District Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals have been issued USJ plates since as early as 1951. The Customs Court, now known as the U.S. Court of International Trade, has been issued JUS plates since the 1970s but was issued JCC plates as early as 1954. The last to be issued plates were the Federal Administrative Law judges, who received plates only during the 1970s or early 1980s.
First issued: 1980 + Created from: ???? + Size: Passenger + Colors: Standard
Among the lower courts in New York State, or 'courts of original instance', the state is divided into 13 districts along county lines. Upstate New York comprises seven of these districts, each with multiple counties in each district. The remaining six districts constitute the five counties (boroughs) of New York City, and the two Long Island counties, Nassau and Suffolk. The district courts hear civil cases and non-felony criminal cases.
Distinctive plates for district court judges may have begun in the mid-1960s on the blue base. The JDC plate above, while almost certainly issued to a district court judge, doesn't follow the judge annual plate format common to all others, with a 12 and year of expiration in the bottom corners. The plate is also stickered to expire in November rather than December. That the prefix is JDC and not DCJ as found in later years doesn't really decide whether it is a vanity or a special issue. Until other plates are found, it will remain uncertain.
Deeping the mystery is a plate that appeared on eBay only this week: An orange base with original dies and a sticker box, with the registration DCJ-36. It's clearly not regular issue at at the least a vanity plate, but was it also issued to a district court judge? If it is a judge plate, why is this the only judge type not issued on an annual basis? If it is only a vanity plate, whether intentional or coincidental, why were district court judges the last to be issued a distinctive plate type?
The first plates definitively identified as district court judge plates did not appear until 1980. They follow the standard for all judge plates. with a DCJ prefix, the registration, and the month and year in the bottom corners. Two plate designs are known for 1981. The first resembles the 1980 except for uniform height letters and numbers in the registration. The second is partially silkscreened, with DISTRICT COURT on two lines at the left, a diagonal DCJ prefix, and the registration. All plates for 1982 through 1984 follow the latter partially-silkscreened design.
In 1986 a Liberty base design was introduced, with DISTRICT COURT to the right of the small Liberty graphic, a stacked DCJ prefix, and the registration. The month and year was embossed in the bottom corners. In [1990?] plates went to a two-year cycle, with the years 90 and 91 appearing in the bottom corners.
In 2010 the first Unified Court plates appears, on the Empire white base, with the seal of the Unified Court System at the left, DISTRICT /COURT, a stacked DCJ prefix, and the registration number. (A Housing Part Civil Court example is shown at left.) In 2012 a redesigned Unified Court plate appears, on the Empire Gold optional base, with a full-color seal replacing the monochrome one. (A Family Court example is shown.)
Photo credit: JDC-37 (Jim Schaller)
First issued: 1964 • Created from: Low-numbered official • Size: Passenger • Colors: Standard
Prior to 1964, when plates specifically designated for all Members of Congress elected from New York State were first issued, U.S. senators and congressmen received plates from the low-numbered official allotments, according to the collective whim of the commissioner of motor vehicles and the governor. (The official series began in 1922.) While federal elected officials might seem to merit among the lowest numbers issued, it seems by the numbers they received that there were far more important officials whose egos needed stroking through this kind of recognition.
Newspaper accounts of low-numbered plates don't always include U.S. senators and congressmen among the notables, leaving us to piece together from sporadic mentions what numbers were actually issued. A 1935 article in the New York Herald Tribune is perhaps the most comprehensive of its period. From it we learn the following registrations:21 U.S. Senator Robert F. Wagner
A briefer Tribune account from 1937 repeats mention of Senator Wagner's 21, Senator Copeland's 26 and 30, and adds Congressman Bertrand Snell's 200. A New York Times article from December 1941 cites Senator Wagner's 21 but makes no mention of the junior senator's car. (Senator Copeland died in office in June 1938 and was succeeded by James Mead.) While we have a record for these years, it shouldn't be inferred that the numbers assigned to the senators were in any way fixed.
According to the distribution lists, the first distinctive recognition of members of Congress came in 1951. The state's U.S. senators received plates with USS registration: USS for the senior senator, Irving Ives; and USS-1 for the junior senator, Herbert Lehman. According to the same source, the following year a third plate was issued with USS-2. This strange state of affairs was corrected by 1953, when the unnumbered prefix plate was dropped in favor of just the numbered ones. The USS plates were continued through 1963.
With the debut of the World Fair base plate in 1964 a new set of congressional plates were issued, one each for the state's senators and representatives. Like the state legislator plates which first came out the same year, the design features a legend ("U.S. SENATE" and "U.S. CONGRESS") over a registration using squat dies. Registrations for representatives are by the district number and are preceded by an even smaller "DIST."; registrations for senators are in order of seniority. Plates were validated in 1965 by a sticker. In January of 1965 Robert F. Kennedy succeeded Kenneth Keating as the state's U.S. senator. Presumably Senator Keating did not surrender his tag to Kennedy as much as 'retired' it. There may well be two sets of number 2 plates on the 1964 base. (Jacob Javits remained the senior senator during this transition.) Ten congressional seats changed hands in 1965 as well.
During the automobile era, the number of Congressional seats has waxed (through 1953) and waned (ever since), as the following list will attest:
1883-1903: 34 seats
Since Congressional plates have been issued only since 1964, this means an ever dwindling supply of plates from the very beginning.
Beginning with 1967 plates were issued annually, with the month and year of expiration in the lower corners (12 for December). A two-line legend with "U.S." over either "SENATE" or "CONGRESS" appears to the left of a full-size registration number.
With the new reflective orange base plates, first issued in January of 1973, new annual plates were issued to the state's congressional delegation. Like many annual plates two different base types were issued for 1973.
The design repeats the one used on the blue base for both types. In 1978 the dies used for the registration numbers changed to those already being used on the general issue passenger and non-passenger plates of the period. As the plate at the left shows, the same dies were used for the "second car" suffix.
I have not seen any examples of U.S. Senate plates after the reflective orange base. I have to speculate that their design follows the example of the U.S. Congress plate.
Annual plates for 1986 were issued in January 1986 on the reflective orange base to expire in December of that year. The changeover to the Liberty base most likely took place in January 1987 with the issuance of annual plates with the embossed two-digit month and year in the lower corners. With a congressional delegation of only 34, it's hard to explain a registration number as high as 204 for this type, even taking into account multi-car families. Annual plates were issued the following year as well.
Beginning in 1991 two-year plates were issued, with the two-digit registration years appearing in the bottom corners. As the plate above demonstrates, "second car" registrations were achieved through a suffix letter, at least up to the letter C for the third "second car". The two-year registration now puts the congressional plates on the same renewal cycle as the representative's term of office.
Given the March 2001 unveiling of the Empire base plate, two months into the congressional term, it's not clear whether Empire base congressional plates were first issued for 2001-02 or 2003-04, but certainly plates were issued for the latter biennium. Though I have not seen any, I expect that they are entirely silkscreened, with the two-line text to the left of the registration number. The two years of validity appear in white in the two corners of the blue slogan strip at the bottom. The same uncertainly holds true for the Empire gold base plates. Certainly the most recently elected batch of representatives will have 2013-14 plates on the Empire gold base.
Photo sources: Congress 33 (1964), 2 (1966) (Jim Schaller), Congress 1-2 (1985) (Chuck Westphal)
First issued: 1964 • Created from: All-numeric official • Size: Passenger • Colors: Standard
At this writing there are 62 state senators and 150 assemblymen and assemblywomen. (Beginning in 2013 there will be 63 state senators.) The number of senators varies, according to the state constitution; the number of assembly members is fixed at 150. They are elected for two-year terms in even-numbered years.
Ever since low-numbered registration numbers were first kept aside for important motorists, members of the New York State legislature, the Senate and Assembly, have been issued distinctive plates--even if the specific distinction isn't immediately apparent.
When exactly this happened is impossible to determine. Similarly the number 1 was not originally issued to the governor; that didn't begin until 1916. Enterprising state legislators may have sought low-numbered plates as early as 1910, the remainder settling for whatever number was issued them. In this way it is impossible to correlate specific numbers or number ranges to legislators.
Published directories and newspaper articles frequenly reported elected officials' registration numbers. A New York Times article from 1916 lists number 11 to Robert F. Wagner, the Senate minority leader. (Oddly the Senate majority leader isn't mentioned, but then again, not all dignitaries owned automobiles.)
The practice came to a dead halt with the issue of 1922 plates. Distinctive low-numbered plates were officially discontinued. In their place the numbers 1 through 2-000 were issued to state-owned vehicles. The low-number allotment was increased over time as local government vehicles and, important for our purposes, elected officials were added to those included in the allotment. What numbers were actually issued and to what office holders is poorly known: apart from the governor, the remaining low numbers change with the will of the commissioner of motor vehicles and those whispering in his ear. Among those jockeying for the numbers are the former governors, secretary of state, attorney general--and at one point, the mother of President Roosevelt.
When the all-numeric registration scheme was replaced in 1925 with the alpha-numeric one, a new opportunity for low registrations, now to include a letter, became available. The all-numeric allotment was continued.
A New York Herald Tribune article for 1935 lays out many of the all-numeric registrations for state legislators. Gaps in the numbering usually indicate numbers issued to other officeholders:
This state of affairs continued through the 1963 registration year. In 1964, without any fanfare, two new series of plates were issued, one each for members of the senate and assembly. Each features a legend at the top and the standard "World's Fair" slogan on the bottom, In between in stubby numbers is the registration number. The numbers are reportedly allotted by seniority rather than by district number.
The design was carried forward onto the multi-year blue base in 1966, with a sticker box in the lower right-hand corner. Plates with a 12-66 sticker are known. Since all state legislators were standing for re-election in 1966, these plates would have been validated only through December 1966.
By the beginning of the 1967 registration period it must have been decided to issue state legislators annual plates (in spite of their two-year terms), beginning with plates expiring in December 1967. The new design featured a centered, two-line text to the left of the registration and a full-sized registration on the right.
N.Y. Senate, 1968-1973
N.Y. Assembly, 1968-1973
The annual blue base design continued through the December 1973 issue. It's a bit of a mystery why 1973 plates were issued, since the reflective orange base was scheduled to be introduced the following month.
Even though an annual 1973 plate was issued to state legislators, once the reflective orange base was introduced in January 1973 state legislators naturally began to get their plates on this new base. It's not clear whether replacement plates were issued on a staggered basis for legislators as it was for passenger car owners: unlike passenger registrations, which were staggered across a twelve-month period, legislator plates were still issued annually to expire in December. Since 1973 wasn't an election year no new plates needed to be issued (apart from any newly-elected or appointed legislator on the death of the one elected in 1972).
N.Y. Senate, 1974-1986
N.Y. Assembly, 1974-1986
The annual orange base dated plates continued until December 1986. The dies for the registration number changed in 1978 from those used on the previous base to those already in use on the orange base passenger plates. The 1985 Senate plate 1-2 was issued to the senior state senator's second car.
The introduction of the Liberty base in July 1986 came in the middle of the annual 1986 base for state legislators. It wouldn't be untill January 1987 that the redesigned Senate and Assembly plates were issued. The new base, now valid for the two-year term of the officeholder, kept the embossed legend and registration number, to the right of the Statue of Liberty graphic. The two=digit years of validity were embossed in the bottom left and right corners. The design would carry over through the 1995-96 base.
For 2001-02 state legislator plates were issued on the new Empire base plate. New dies were used for the legend and the registration numbers. The blue bar with the "The Empire State" slogan on most plates was removed, replaced by the two-digit years of validity.
The following term (2003-04) the blue bar appeared, with the two-digit years of validity in white at either end of the bar. The example at left, with the small "A" following the registration, as well as 157A above, is an example of a plate issued for the legislator's "second car". The second car option is common across most of the elected official plate types. The design carried forward through the 2009-10 biennium.
Photo credits: Senate 17 (1966), 51 (1978), 90 (1980), 91 (1981), 95 (1982), 38 (1984), 1-2 (1985), 1 (1986), Assembly 55 (1973), 165 (1974), 138 (1975), 94 (1983), 90 (1984), 157A (1989-90), Jim Schaller; Assembly 72 (2003-04), Kevin Halfpenny; Assembly 20 (2011-12), Jason DeCesare.
First issued: 1957• Created from: Passenger • Size: Passenger • Colors: Standard
According to the association,
The New York State Magistrates Association is an organization of approximately 3,200 sitting and retired Town and Village Justices. There are approximately 2,250 positions of Town and Village Justices statewide filled by 2,075 men and women. Some of the justices sit as both a Town and Village Justice. Town and Village Justices make up approximately 2/3 of all sitting Justices in the State of New York.
The State Magistrates Association plate straddles the professional and the official judicial types: issued on a membership basis, the plates are issued to local officials and former officials. And while it's likely that individual justices may have registered their automobiles with distinctive plates suggesting their profession as long as such plates were available, as a group they were not recognized by a plate series until the SMA series was first issued, apparently in 1957. 'Justices of the Peace', or judges of courts of limited jurisdiction, might be considered among this group. Plates with JP prefixes or suffixes, issued from Albany, might have been issued to magistrates on request.
Yet while plates are known from 1957, they do not appear in the annual distribution list until 1962, numbered 1 through 350. Unfortunately that's also the last year special registrations are listed in the distribution list, so quantities before or since can only be determined by surviving examples.
The design contiuned unchanged on the multi-year blue base. Unlike many judicial and official plates, the expiration date was not uniformly in December, as the photo above and at left attest. Plates were issued with SMA prefixes and suffixes: For the blue base The highest prefix I have seen is numbered 831; the highest suffix, 209.
The first plates to appear on the orange base, presumably in 1974, used the same normal dies that appeared on the blue base. The wholesale replacement that comes with replating would suggest that a high number of plates in this style would survive.
But the majority of plates in plate collections use a design that was instituted shortly thereafter, with the prefix now in small letters diagonally arrayed. Plates continued to be issued in both prefix and suffix versions, even though the option to go to four digits was not possible. Later plates (circa 1980) feature the numbers that were used on the uniform-height dies, as in 92-SMA in this group.
Beginning in July 1986 the orange base was replaced by the Statue of Liberty base, with the diagonal prefix/suffix replaced by a stacked one.
An intriguing commercial variation on the SMA plate is known for the Liberty base plate, on the all-silkscreened version first issued around 1995. It's difficult to imagine why a local magistrate might require a commercial registration, unless he or she had a contracting business on the side.
Also known for the Empire base are a number of what appear to be commemorative plates issued to current or past presidents of the New York State Magistrates Association. These feature a SMA 1 registration and the year during which the president served. It's unlikely these plates were ever street legal.
Toward the end of the Empire base plate, probably 2009 or 2010, the SMA design was modified by the addition, now legitimately, of the emblem of the association. The registration is offset to the right to accommodate the logo.
Reportedly this design was carried forward on the Empire gold base plate.
Photo source: SMA-341, SMA-952 (Jim Schaller), SMA-98, 208-SMA (Chuck Westphal).
First issue: 1974? • Created from: All-numeric official • Size: Passenger • Colors: Standard
According to its website, "the New York State Court of Claims is the exclusive forum for civil litigation seeking damages against the State of New York or certain other State-related entities such as the N.Y. State Thruway Authority, the City University of New York and the N.Y. State Power Authority (claims for the appropriation of real property only)." The court administration is in Albany, with courts sitting there and in Binghamton, Buffalo, Hauppauge, New York City, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, Utica and White Plains. The web directory lists 27 judges.
Plates are known from the beginning of the orange base era, starting with 1974 as shown above. The design remained unchanged, apart from transitioning from the blue base numbering (such as the 1976) to the orange base number (1979). Known plates for the 1986 appear in both the orange base and the newly issued Liberty base.
Liberty base plates differ only in the addition of the Liberty graphic at the far left, and the new dies for the month and year of expiration in the lower corners. It is reported that plates went to a two-year expiration cycle beginning in 1991, when the two dates (91 and 92) appeared in the lower corners. While we don't have any evidence, this most likely continued unchanged through the 1999-2000 biennium and possibly into the 2001-2002 biennium.
First issue: 1960's • Created from: Low-numbered official • Size: Passenger • Colors: Standard
Unlike many other jurisdictions, including the Federal courts, the highest court, or 'court of last resort', in New York State is known as the Court of Appeals. Its seven judges hear appeals from the next highest court, the four Appellate Divisions of the Supreme Court.
Historically judges of the Court of Appeals were issued low-numbered official plates for many years. A newspaper article from February 1935 lists the following Appeals Court judges:
60 -- John O'Brien; 61 -- Chief Judge Frederick Crane (who still had this number in 1938); 62 -- William S. Judge, former judge of the Court of Appeals; 68 -- Edward R. Finch; 72 -- John T. Loughran
It's not clear when appeals court judges were first issued distinctive COURT OF APPEALS plates, but certainly during the blue base years, as the plate of the Chief Judge above attests. The blue base continued through the Dec. 1972 base (at left).
Understandably few examples of this type are known. The 1973 plate above echoes the blue base design, including the earlier number dies, unlike most other judge plates from the seventies. While the number dies changed (eventually), the plates remained all embossed in the eighties, even as the other judges moved to a semi-silkscreened design.
Unfortunately little more is known about this plate type as we approach the present. The Liberty base plate began in 1986, with an embossed two-line COURT OF APPEALS between the Liberty graphic and the registration number, with 12 and 86 in the lower corners. Two-years began in either 1990 or 1991 with the two years of validity in the lower corners.
Empire base plates have almost certainly been issued, and their design could be reasonably predicted. But confirmation will have to wait for another time.
Photo credit: COURT OF APPEALS 1  (Jim Schaller)
First issued: 1966? • Created from: Official (numeric) or unofficial vanity registrations • Size: Passenger • Colors: Standard
Within the New York State Unified Court System, the Surrogate's Court handles all probate and estate proceedings. Each county has a single surrogates court judge, with New York and Kings counties having two. Assuming only one registration per judge, this would add up to a slender 64 registrations state-wide.
The court had long been a part of the county-level court structure. There do not seem to be examples of or references to surrogate's court judge plates for the years that other county court judge plates are known.
As early as 1939 plates with a SJ prefix were issued from Albany, numbered 1 to 100--though all 100 may not have been issued. Newspaper reports suggest that they were issued to surrogate's court judges. The plate from 1942 above is in the author's collection. This allotment remained unchanged until 1964, when it was upped to 200.
In all likelihood surogate's court judge plates began in 1966, with the annual blue base. The 1971 plate above is the earliest I have heard of so far, so it's conjecture as far as the 1966 start date. But it is difficult to imagine that all judicial plates weren't begun at the same time on a given base, whichever base that is.
The reflective orage base surrogate's court judge plate was first issued In January of 1973. These plates followed the established practice for judicial plates, with a prefix--here SCJ--followed by the registration. The month (12) and year of expiration appear in the bottom corners.
This design remained unchanged on all succeeding annual plates through 1980. As the 1980 plate suggests, more than 64 plates were manufactured (and probably issued). In 1981 uniform-height dies were first used on this (as nearly all other) plate. (The high number on this example could argue that the uniform-height dies were a late development. I would have to see a lower number to prove that.)
In 1982 a revised design was introduced featuring a silkscreened two-line SURROGATES [sic] COURT and diagonal SCJ to the left of the embossed registration, with the month and year of expiration still in the bottom corners. This cramped, apostrophe-less design continued through the 1986 base plate.
The same year an alternate plate was issued, now on the Liberty base plate. The two-line phrase was now jammed up against the Statue of Liberty graphic and the diagonal SCJ prefix replaced with a stacked prefix. Annual plates were replaced by two-year plates beginning in 1990 [?] and continued through the 1996-1997 biennium. Plates for 1998 were issued in an all-silkscreened design, as were the 2000-01 plates.
In 2010 the first Unified Court plates appears, on the Empire white base, with the seal of the Unified Court System at the left, SURROGATES / COURT, and the registration number, with either a SCJ prefix. (A Housing Part Civil Court example is shown at left.) In 2012 a redesigned Unified Court plate appears, on the Empire Gold optional base, with a full-color seal replacing the monochrome one. (A Family Court example is shown.)
Photo credit: SCJ-20 (Jim Schaller)
First issued: 1939 - Size: Passenger - Colors: Standard
Plates for the state's 62 county district attorneys were first issed for 1939. The plates appear in every respect like a standard passenger issue. The design features the DA prefix and a number, originally from 1 to 62 in alphabetic order by county. By happy coincidence the state capitol is also in the first county alphabetically, Albany.
The allotment for DA plates 'jumped' to 75 in 1950, whether to satisfy the DAs' second cars or to accommodate assistant district attorneys. The number remained at 75 through 1962, the last year for which we have records.
Even the change to standard-sized plates in 1957 made no appreciable difference in the design.
The design remained unchanged until the first year of the multi-year blue base, 1966. Beginning in 1966 plates were issued annually, with the month of expiration (12) and the two-digit year in the bottom corners of the plate.
The change to the reflective orange base in 1974 had little effect on the design, apart from the colors and the letterform dies. Uniform height dies appeared with the 1981 base.
In 1982 and for the next four years (through 1986) plates featured the two-line DISTRICT ATTORNEY legend, a diagonally stacked DA and the county number, over the same annual dated state legend. The plate illustrated above is two digits above the highest number if each county were issued only one plate.
Any hopes for a design change with the Liberty base plate were not realized. The two-line legend and a (now) stacked DA prefix preceded the registration number, all to the right of the Statue of Liberty graphic. The month and year now appear in very short dies in the bottom corners of the plate.
I haven't happened to see a district attorney plate on the Empire white or Empire gold base plate.
Photo credit: DA 7 (Jim Schaller)
First issued: 1986? - Created from: Civil Court Judge (JNY) - Size: Passenger - Colors: Standard
A peculiar variant on the civil court judge plates, the housing court plate first appears in the 1980s. Many counties maintain a separate court expressly dedicated to hearing landlord-tenant cases. The New York City courts are arguably the most likely to support judges who request housing court plates. That said there are very few examples known from previous years. Given heightened security concerns, even for landlord-tenant judges, it may be pretty hard to spot one on the street, even near a courthouse.
The Liberty-era plates share the two-line CIVIL COURT legend right of the statue graphic, the registration number, and a stacked HJ suffix. Annual plates have the month (12) and year appear in the bottom corners. Beginning in 1990 plates were issued for two years. The 1992-93 plate appears at the top of this post. An all-silkscreened plate probably appeared late in the 1990s, in 1996 or 1998.
The Liberty base plate was probably first issued in the 2002-03 biennium. Judging from the later design (below), it's safe to say that it looked identical to the later Unified Court System plate but without the seal.