It doesn’t look like the gavel is going to come on Bristol’s courthouse anytime soon.
House Speaker Chris Donovan, a Meriden Democrat, said Thursday that “it doesn’t make sense” for lawmakers to go along with Gov. Jodi Rell’s proposal to shut down courthouses in Bristol and his hometown.
The closures probably won’t happen now, said state Rep. Chris Wright, a Bristol Democrat. “The speaker holds a lot of weight.”
Closing the Meriden and Bristol courthouses, as the governor proposes, would save $2.1 million annually by eliminating funding for 29 positions and associated costs, according to Rell's budget.
Another $438,000 would be saved by axing five public defenders who work at the two courthouses.
Though Donovan’s support for the two courthouses is crucial, it’s not the last word.
“We’re hopeful” the courts will stay open, said state Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat.
“It appears we’re going to be able to save it, but I can’t take that to the bank,” Nicastro said.
Donovan said that both courts are busy places that serve important roles in their communities.
Without them, he asked, “Where are people going to go?”
State Sen. Tom Colapietro, a Bristol Democrat, said that shutting down the courthouses would “hurt Bristol” by cutting into downtown business.
“There’s more and more leaving the downtown area,” the senator said, and adding to the exodus wouldn’t help.
A state law requires the Bristol courthouse remain open at least 40 weeks a year, a measure written into the statute book more than 15 years ago when former House Minority Leader Edward Krawiecki, Jr took the initiative to block earlier talk of shutting the Bristol institution.
However, the law doesn’t specifically require a superior court locally so it’s always possible the state could stick a traffic or small claims court in the space and comply with the law's wording without leaving much of a judicial footprint in town.
The state tried most recently in 2001 to close the courthouse. The effort was beaten back by the city's legislators and Nicastro, who was mayor at the time.
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