Expose: "Justice Courts" in New York State
These types of courts used to be relatively commonplace nationwide when lawyers were fewer and farther between and alternatives were necessary to dispense justice in rural areas. Still, according to the Times about 30 states still have some form of these courts. Although many states have reigned in the authority of these courts in recent years, or have required specific training and education (like maybe a law degree) for people to serve as judges, New York still allows people to sit as judges in these courts with less schooling than is required to become a licensed manicurist or hair stylist.
The New York Times expose detailed a year long investigation into these courts and some of the more harrowing abuses of power therein. It's a long read to get through all of the story, but it's also a fascinating read and well worth the time and effort.
Read the expose:
Part I: "In Tiny Courts of N.Y., Abuses of Law and Power"
Part II: "Small-Town Justice, With Trial and Error"
Part III: "How a Reviled Court System Has Outlasted Critics"
Hat-tip: The Legal Reader; September 24