- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) - At least four state courthouses are expected to close by the end of the year because of a $77 million net reduction to the Judicial Branch budget imposed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state lawmakers, judicial officials said Tuesday.

Judge Patrick L. Carroll III, the chief court administrator, announced what he called the first round of courthouse closings.

“It is unfortunate that these courthouse closings must occur,” Carroll said in a statement. “They will be disruptive and will impact many people.”

The four courthouses scheduled to close are Superior Court in Willimantic and juvenile courts in Danbury, Torrington and Stamford. Cases will be moved to other courthouses. There are 43 state courthouses.

Carroll said the closures were based on the loss of staff through layoffs and attrition.

The Judicial Branch has laid off 239 permanent workers and 61 temporary employees and expects another 200 job vacancies due to attrition and a hiring freeze. Having 500 fewer positions will save about $40 million.

Joe Gaetano, president of Local 731 of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which represents judicial marshals, said the union was concerned about how public safety at the courthouses will be affected by the layoffs, which include 101 judicial marshals and 23 judicial security officers. He said with fewer courthouses, others will be busier while there will be fewer judicial marshals.

The original judicial budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, approved last year, was $577 million. But Malloy and the Democrat-controlled legislature had to address a projected $960 million budget deficit and made cuts throughout state government. Layoff notices have gone out to nearly 1,000 state employees.

Carroll said the $77 million net reduction to the Judicial Branch budget represents a 13 percent cut.

A Malloy spokesman declined to comment on the planned courthouse closings.

Senate President Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said the closings were part of the “painful and difficult consequences” of the budget cuts that had to be made.

Under the courthouse closure plan, cases at Superior Court in Willimantic will be transferred to the Danielson and Putnam courthouses. Cases at the Danbury Juvenile Court will be transferred to the Bridgeport and Waterbury juvenile courts. Cases at the Torrington Juvenile Court will be moved to the Waterbury and New Britain juvenile courts. And cases at the Stamford Juvenile Court will be moved to Bridgeport Juvenile Court.

Judicial officials said their other budget-cutting moves include state judicial marshals no longer staffing 24-hour lockups at the Hartford and New Haven police departments and reducing programs for adult and juvenile offenders.

William Clendenen Jr., president of the Connecticut Bar Association, said “reducing citizen access to the judicial system by closing courthouses harms everyone, especially the poor.” He said the Bar Association will continue talks with lawmakers to see if courthouse closings can be avoided.

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