Budget Cuts Force Court Closings
(Updated 1:35 p.m.) Judicial Branch officials announced Tuesday that they are closing the Windham County Courthouse in Willimantic as well as three juvenile courts in Danbury, Torrington, and Stamford.
Juvenile cases usually heard in Danbury will be transferred to Bridgeport and Waterbury. Torrington cases will be transferred to Waterbury or New Britain, and the cases in Stamford will be transferred to Bridgeport. Civil and family cases heard at the courthouse in Willimantic will be transferred to Putnam or Danielson, depending upon whether the matter is criminal or civil.
The closures are expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year, according to Chief Court Administrative Judge Patrick Carroll.
“It is unfortunate that these courthouse closings must occur,” Carroll said. “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.”
The state budget that’s in place for the 2017 fiscal year cuts $77 million from the Judicial Branch.
“Reducing citizen access to the judicial system by closing courthouses harms everyone, especially the poor,” the Connecticut Bar Association said in a statement. “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.”
Joe Gaetano, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 731, said they have concerns about the closing of courthouses and layoffs of 239 employees and 61 temporary staff.
Gaetano said they understand the state’s budgetary situation, however, there’s concerns about the layoff of 101 judicial marshals and 23 judicial security officers and how that will impact public safety. Back in February, Carroll testified that they would like to have 840 judicial marshals, but they only have 644 at any given time due to workers’ compensation and planned leave.
“The closing of courthouses does not mean caseloads will be reduced; it means more business will be consolidated in fewer buildings,” Gaetano said. “At the same time, the Judicial Marshals, who were already understaffed, are being further reduced.”
As it considers further reductions, Gaetano asked the Judicial Branch to make public safety a priority.
Already the Judicial Branch has laid off 300 permanent and temporary employees. It has also cut $14.5 million from programs and services that serve both adult and juvenile offenders and it has laid off the judicial marshals who staff lock-up facilities in New Haven and Hartford.
Last week, New Haven Police Chief Dean Esserman told the New Haven Register that he and Hartford Police Chief James C. Rovella asked Carroll to review a request to extend his agency’s staffing for the lock-ups until the end of the year.
The two chiefs were notified in April that because of state budget cuts, the judicial marshals would no longer staff be staffing the two facilities starting July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
The chiefs’ request would give both departments additional time to develop a transition plan for staffing the facilities. Both departments’ lock-ups are staffed by state judicial marshals, whose services are supervised by Carroll.
But Judicial Branch officials and Michael Lawlor, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s undersecretary for criminal justice policy and planning, said there’s no ability to go beyond June 30 because of the budget issues. Both the branch and the Correction Department are willing to help the municipal police departments transition to operating their own lock ups, a practice that’s common in many other states.
In a memo to employees, Carroll said they expect to be operating with well over 500 fewer employees by the end of the next fiscal year because it will be unable to replace staff that has been laid off or retired.
“Moreover, the following fiscal year shows no promise of relief and may even be worse,” Carroll said. “The bottom line is that we will not have enough staff to operate the 43 courthouses we have today and will struggle to staff the courthouses that remain open.”
Carroll said the court closings announced today and the layoffs position the branch to operate with far fewer employees in the future.