"Keep Our Courthouse Open"
L-R: Local 749's Stephanie Fish; Council 4's Peter Thor; Sen. Bob Duff; Local 749 President Tony Duarte
Members of AFSCME Local 749, representing more than 1,500 state judicial and criminal justice employees, are spearheading a grass-roots campaign to prevent the Rell administration from shuttering the Norwalk Courthouse.
Local 749 union members organized a Nov. 13 meeting at the courthouse with State Sen. Bob Duff of Norwalk, who is fighting to keep the court in operation. Court employees reiterated their concern that the proposed closure would not save money and instead would be a setback for Norwalk and the surrounding towns.
"Closing the Norwalk Courthouse would be a devastating loss to the community and to our criminal justice system," said Local 749 President Tony Duarte. "I've spoken not only with court workers, but police officers, prosecutors and defense attorneys. We're all appalled the governor would even consider closing a courthouse in Connecticut's sixth largest city."
Duff told an audience of employees and police chiefs from Norwalk and all the surrounding communities that moving Norwalk's operations to Stamford -- as the Rell administration has suggested -- will not solve any problems but will create them.
"We need to make decisions that are right for the state of Connecticut," Duff said. "Closing the Norwalk courthouse is the wrong decision to make."
Court employees and law enforcement officials echoed Duff's sentiment.
"This is a busy courthouse that serves a large community," said Local 749 member Stephanie Fish, an investigator with the Norwalk court system. "Logistically, [closing the courthouse] would be a nightmare. It's only going to clog the clogged justice system even more."
If Norwalk shuts its doors, Fish said, there will be an increase in paperless warrants and a corresponding backlog of cases due to the inability of defendants to get to Stamford. Several speakers responded to Fish’s remarks, noting that “FTA" warrants (failure to appear) alone would increase by at least 20% -- and each would have to be investigated.
Nor is the Stamford courthouse equipped for overflow cases, which would burden public service workers even more. Duff said he spoke to Sen. Andrew McDonald, who represents Stamford. McDonald, who is an attorney, said the Stamford Courthouse simply cannot absorb Norwalk’s cases.
Norwalk Chief Harry Rilling said that he and local chiefs share the same concerns, namely a loss of manpower as officers travel to Stamford with prisoners, arrest warrants or police reports. Rilling said a trip to Stamford would take officers up to four to five hours; now it’s five minutes.
Duff said Court Administrator Barbara Quinn and area legislators, including Duff and State Sen. Andrew McDonald, need to hear from citizens opposed to shutting down Norwalk courthouse to help lawmakers argue for sustaining its operation.