The state court system aims to close the Bristol courthouse by March a, 2011 in order to save $150,000 in lease and operating expenses, according to the chief court administrator.
Judge Barbara M. Quinn recently told the legislature’s appropriations committee that three courthouses – in Bristol, Willamantic and Norwalk – can be shut down “without significant cost to the state” because they have leases that can be cancelled within the next year.
In the case of the Willamantic and Norwalk courthouses, which each serve juveniles, Quinn said the courts will close next year.
But to shutter the Bristol courthouse, she said, the courts will need “the concurrence of the legislature.”
Though Quinn didn’t expand on the reason, lawmakers have said that a statute on the books requires court to be held in Bristol for at least 40 weeks a year.
Closing the courthouse, and moving its cases to New Britain, would violate the law, legislators said, so it can’t be done without their blessing.
Bristol’s lawmakers vowed last month to fight any effort to repeal the statute that guarantees the city’s courthouse will remain open.
State Rep. Frank Nicastro, a Bristol Democrat and former mayor, promisedhe would “fight tooth and nail to keep that law on the books. I’m going to protect our city as much as I can.”
Court officials said they don’t necessarily want to close courthouses. They said they are being forced to slash where they can to reduce spending to levels authorized by the legislature and Gov. Jodi Rell.
“We must remember that the Judicial Branch does not determine on its own the
locations where court will be held or the scope and size of the programs and services that
we will provide to the citizens of the state,” Quinn told the Nov. 18 public hearing of the appropriations panel.
“Adequate funding is essential to carry out the will of the legislature and provide the services expected of a statewide court system,” she said. “It is disheartening and frustrating to see an ever-widening chasm between the programmatic responsibilities and mandates given to the Judicial Branch by the legislature and the funds that are ultimately available to meet those critical and core duties.”
“Responsibilities and mandates only seem to grow and expand while resources continue to shrink,” Quinn said, adding that the situation “cannot continue.”
“If adequate funding is unavailable and if unilateral budget reductions continue to be imposed by the executive branch, we have no choice but to curtail what we do and where we do it,” Quinn said.
She said that given the “unavoidable and unfortunate situation” related to judicial finances, she has to take action “to narrow the gap as much as possible between available funding and expenses.”
Quinn said that none of the actions she is recommending are one she would otherwise choose, but something has to be done.
Quinn also said tat because “this is a very fluid situation,” her recommendations, including the closure of Bristol’s courthouse, are “merely the first steps in what promises to be a long and painful process.”
Quinn’s entire testimony is available here.
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