Watertown Told To Get Second Courtroom Or Face $anctions

Watertown Told To Get Second Courtroom Or Face $anctions

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Since the city of Watertown got a second full-time judge in 2014, the city has been told it needs a second courtroom.

Many options have been looked at, but no decision has been made.

Now, Judge James Tormey, who oversees judges in the area, says enough is enough. He feels the city is dragging its feet and says he needs a new courtroom space immediately. 

He wrote in a letter to Mayor Joe Butler that he has "lost confidence in the city's ability or desire to move this city court project forward."

“We've been more than patient with them. We understand they have other things they've got to do. They want to build hockey rinks and swimming pools and things of that nature and that's all well and good. But this is something that's desperately needed and they've known they have to do it and they refuse to recognize it in a responsible way,” said Tormey, 5th Judicial District administrative judge. 

The city now has a deadline of March 15 to come up with a temporary solution and a deadline of May 15 to have permanent plan.

Judge Tormey says if the city doesn't meet the deadlines, the 5th Judicial District will take state aid the city gets each year and use it for the project.

"I hate to do that but we're left with no choice," said Tormey.

Mayor Butler says the city gets $5 million in state aid each year and losing it would be crushing.

Butler says the city plans to follow the deadlines.

"It doesn't get any more serious than that, I mean, the threat of having your significant amount of state aid taken away is the last straw really," he said.

Butler says the city hopes to use the city council chambers as a temporary court room.

Long term, the city is looking at two options: trying to buy the American Legion across the street and building a courtroom there; or building a second courtroom on the first floor of city hall and moving offices upstairs. Both options would cost between $4 and $5 million.

Butler says he understands Judge Tormey's frustration, but says the city also has frustrations. He says the city wasn't involved in the process of deciding to hire a second full-time judge, like he says it was supposed to. He also says the city is frustrated that it has to pay for the project.

"Our frustration is it's an unfunded mandate that costs millions of dollars and it's going to be a burden on taxpayers for years to come," said Butler.

Many in Watertown don't think there is a need for a second courtroom. They say the two judges have been sharing the existing courtroom just fine.  But Tormey cites times where there were conflicts and says there are new state requirements that will mandate a second courtroom.

“I have to create an opioid court and a veterans court and perhaps a mental health court and domestic violence court and city court and I can't do that with one courtroom and two judges,” he said.

Butler has invited Tormey to come to Watertown next week to discuss both short and long term options for the second courtroom. Tormey says he will be there.

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