Following a multi-year dispute over who should pay to fix a Warren County courtroom that a judge has declared unconstitutional, Senator Michael Doherty (R- Hunterdon, Warren, Somerset) has introduced legislation (S-1901) to clarify the authority of county governing bodies to determine county court facility expenditures and the suitability of courtrooms.
“Warren County completed upgrades to the county courthouse at the request of court officials who reviewed and signed off on plans prior to construction,” said Doherty. “Warren County taxpayers, already on the hook for the $6 million renovation, shouldn’t have to pay a penny more because court officials changed their minds about what they wanted after construction was completed.”
Courtroom #2, completed in 2011 as part of a renovation project to improve security and upgrade facilities at the Warren County Courthouse, was declared to be unusable due to the placement of a 6-inch-wide support pillar that partially obscured views between the jury box and defense table. Following a ruling by Superior Court Judge Ann R. Bartlett in February 2012, proceedings involving juries have been prohibited in the courtroom.
Parties involved in the dispute, including the county freeholders, public defender’s office, county prosecutor and assignment judge have failed to agree on a solution or who should bear the burden of funding corrective measures.
“State court officials want county taxpayers to pay for whatever the cost is to make the courtroom usable, but that certainly wouldn’t be fair or wise,” added Doherty. “Anyone familiar with court rulings on affordable housing and school funding knows how dangerous it is to let the courts spend our money. My legislation would give county officials the final say over courtrooms and would prevent the spendthrift state judiciary from wasting county taxpayer dollars in these kinds of disputes.”