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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    Judicial Branch ponders major shake up in New London courthouses

    In this file photo, workers with G.L. Capasso Inc. structural reconstruction contractors out of North Haven, re-roof, and re-point mortar on the Connecticut Superior Court Geographical Area 10 (GA 10) courthouse on Broad Street in New London Monday, April 5, 2021.
    New London Superior Court at 70 Huntington St., New London.

    New London ― The Connecticut Judicial Branch is exploring the idea of consolidating criminal proceedings into one New London courthouse to address the shortcomings of an outdated courthouse built in 1891 as a girls’ high school.

    The idea, which is in the initial discussion phase, is to move all criminal matters from the 112 Broad St. building known as Geographical Area 10 into the New London Judicial District courthouse at 70 Huntington St., which is now home to civil court and Part A matters, the court where all serious crimes in New London County are heard.

    Civil operations would move from Huntington Street to Broad Street. The GA court is the busier of the two in terms of the number of criminal proceedings and last Friday had 170 defendants on the day’s docket.

    “The GA 10 building is an older, converted courthouse facility, and as such, presents several operational challenges,” Rhonda Hebert, deputy director of communications for the Connecticut Judicial Branch, said.

    For instance, the cell block space where prisoners are held before a court appearance “is insufficient to separately hold female and male prisoners simultaneously, which results in processing delays and safety issues,” Hebert said.

    On the day of a court appearance, female prisoners are held in cells in the Huntington Street courthouse and taken to Broad Street when it is their turn to face a judge.

    “That’s just a logistical nightmare for everybody as far as getting through the docket during the course of a day,” New London attorney Anthony Basilica said.

    The state Judicial Department declined a request by the Day to photograph the holding cell at the GA courthouse.

    Basilica has been in and out of the courthouse hundreds of times during his four-decade career and thinks the Broad Street building is beyond its useful life as a courthouse without major renovations.

    Basilica said he remembers when trials were conducted in a second-floor courtroom. That courtroom is no longer considered secure because there is no direct access to holding cells for people on trial who are incarcerated.

    Hebert said the Broad Street courthouse also lacks adequate space to accommodate staff in the offices that must be present in the courthouse ― the court clerk’s office, family relations, bail, public defenders and state’s attorneys.

    If the move does happen, Hebert said, “this transition will result in more efficient operations in the JD and GA courthouses and provide improved access to the public we serve.” Hebert stressed that the plan is still in the preliminary stages of collecting information and no plans have been formalized.

    In addition to solving some of the existing logistical problems, New London County State’s Attorney Paul Narducci said a consolidation of personnel from his office, which is now split among three courthouses ― there is also one in Norwich ― would have benefits. Prosecutors would have better access to observe seasoned attorneys trying cases, “which is one of the ways younger prosecutors learn.”

    Narducci said he expects a lot of questions will need to be answered before any plans are formalized but would be “happy to have everybody together,” if plans work out.

    The Broad Street courthouse opened in 1891 and was home to the Williams Memorial Institute, a girls high school. Now known as the Williams School, it became a college preparatory school and moved to the campus of Connecticut College in 1954.

    In 1972 the state signed a 25-year lease, and the Judicial Branch opened in the courthouse. The state bought the property in 1997 for $200,000.

    If the consolidation does happen, Basilica said, it would have a side benefit for both the New London Senior Citizens Center and a 46-unit apartment complex under construction at the former Richard R. Martin Center adjacent to the courthouse. The daily lineup of hundreds of people with pending motor vehicle and criminal cases will move down the road.


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