Does Watertown Really Need A New City Court?Posted: Updated:
As Watertown leaders plan for new city courtrooms built onto the county court complex, some feel there's an unanswered question: why do we need it?
City Councilwoman Teresa Macaluso is one of them.
"We have tried to appeal to the state that we don't need this and it seems to fall on deaf ears," she said.
Macaluso believes most local leaders feel the same way but are apparently reluctant to speak out for fear of angering state court officials.
They're the ones insisting that state law requires two courtrooms because the city now has a second full-time judge.
One of those officials says before Judge Cathy Palermo became full time, city court had a backlog.
"There was. There was a backlog in the civil part. I'm trying to remember, but I think it was in excess of a hundred cases," said Gerard Neri, special counsel, 5th Judicial District.
Though city court seems to be running smoothly now, Officials suggest it's only because Judge Palermo and the other judge, Eugene Renzi, cooperate so well.
"We do work very well together. So we've been able to keep things running efficiently and on time and work around each other's schedules. It has been suggested to us by our supervising judge in a report that our cordiality makes this work," said Palermo.
The fear is future judges might not be as cordial and one courtroom for two judges wouldn't work.
Macaluso is not convinced.
"I've talked to plenty of the lawyers who use the city court and according to them, there's no problems here," she said.
One of those lawyers is Eric Swartz.
"There is no need for another city court complex," he said.
Swartz says he is among about ten local lawyers handling the bulk of the cases in city court.
How many of them would agree a second courtroom isn't needed?
"Everybody, but they're not going to talk to you," said Swartz.
And the reason is?
"I don't know...Politics," said Swartz.
Judge Palermo says another courtroom could be put to good use.
"If we had two courtrooms, then we could both be working simultaneously," she said.
And she says it is the court-using public that would benefit.
As for paying for a $2 million court project, the city comptroller says it would likely be financed over 15 years.
In year one, it would cost taxpayers just under $200,000.