First round of courthouse closings announced following state bud - WFSB 3 Connecticut

First round of courthouse closings announced following state budget crunch

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Judicial District Courthouse in Willimantic is one of the branches expected to close due to budget cuts. (WFSB) Judicial District Courthouse in Willimantic is one of the branches expected to close due to budget cuts. (WFSB)
DANBURY, CT (WFSB) -

Judicial officials announced on Tuesday the first round of courthouse closings following state budget cuts.

In total, four courthouses will be closed and the judicial branch will be working with 500 fewer employees by 2017. 

The courts closings are the Juvenile Matters at Danbury, Juvenile Matters at Torrington, Juvenile Matters at Stamford and the Judicial District Courthouse in Willimantic.

Officials said the closures are the result of a $77 million reduction in the Judicial Branch's budget for the 2017 fiscal year. The state faced a $922 million budget deficit. A budget was passed by lawmakers last month.

“It is unfortunate that these courthouse closings must occur,” said Judge Patrick Carroll III, chief court administrator.  “They will be disruptive and will impact many people. I want to stress that the closure of courthouses is not driven by savings generated by closing the facilities. Rather, these closings are required because of the loss of staff, through attrition, a strict hiring freeze and layoffs that have already been announced.”

Officials said current plans are that cases from Juvenile Matters at Danbury will be transferred to the juvenile court in Bridgeport, cases in Torrington will be transferred to Waterbury and New Britain, Stamford cases will be transferred to Bridgeport and cases heard in Willimantic will be heard in Putnam or Danielson.

A representative for the Connecticut Judicial Branch told Eyewitness News the closings will not take place likely for six months, but should be completed by the end of the calendar year.

"We are doing the best that we can to position the Judicial Branch so that we can continue to meet the needs of the people we serve, despite significantly fewer resources," Carroll said.

The president of the Connecticut Bar Association, William H. Clendenen Jr., released a statement Tuesday afternoon.

"While courthouse closings were expected given the current state budget situation, we see [Tuesday's] announcement as the start of a process," Clendenen said. "Reducing citizen access to the judicial system by closing courthouses harms everyone, especially the poor. The Connecticut Bar Association believes that access to the courts is a fundamental right, critical to preserving the Rule of Law. We will continue our ongoing dialogue with lawmakers to determine whether there is a better way to achieve necessary costs savings, reverse these decisions, and keep open as many courthouses as possible."

More than 125 Judicial Branch employees received layoff notices in April. Since then, that number ballooned to 239. In May, the Judicial Branch notified 61 temporary court clerks and temporary court recording monitors that it can no longer use their services. Retirees also will not be replaced for a total of 500 fewer jobs.

"With this courthouse closed it's going to be very tight for this legal community," said attorney Norma Arel, outside the court in Willimantic. 

Arel said they will be :jammed up in courtrooms both in Danielson and in Putnam."

"It's not going to be easy to be heard," Arel said. 

In some cases, people may have to drive an hour to their new courthouse location, but the representative pointed out that in many states people drive two hours to courthouse locations. The representative for the Judicial Branch said proportionately Connecticut already has many courthouses for a small state.

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