Bar News - September 18, 2009
Manchester Court Moves: Rumors v. Realities
By: Dan Wise
Conversations with judicial branch and state government officials planning the temporary relocation to Nashua of the Hillsborough County North Superior Court, yielded these known facts, unpleasant truths, and unresolved issues.
Starting in January, Nashua’s Hillsborough South courthouse will be a busy place, hosting the Northern District caseload during the reconstruction of the Manchester courthouse.
What’s for certain Construction is nearly complete on the expansion of the Hillsborough Superior Court Clerk’s office in Nashua to accommodate the clerk’s staff of Hillsborough North. The two clerk’s offices, although occupying the same space, will operate independently, and each Clerk will administer his own docket. Public counters for the two clerk’s offices will be on the first floor, separated by a handicapped-accessible counter in the middle.
There will be two weapons screening stations operated by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, although one may be closed at times, depending on the expected volume of traffic. Attorneys with proper credentials can bypass the weapons screening stations as part of the Security Pilot Project. (Visit the Security Pilot Project page for more about obtaining the necessary ID.)
The timetable for the move calls for the closing of the Hillsborough North courthouse, with all files and equipment moved out during the week between Christmas and New Year’s, with reopening anticipated 18 months later in June 2011. Court officials say there is no truth to the persistent rumor that the Hillsborough Northern Division will be closed for good.
(The architect in charge of renovations will discuss plans for the new Hillsborough North facility at the Manchester Bar Association meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at the Derryfield Country Club. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.)
Slightly ahead of schedule, the Family Division for Hillsborough County North is expected to begin operation in mid-November, in additional spaces at the Manchester District Court building (formerly the Union Leader building) on Amherst Street, thus reducing the number of staff and cases that must move to Nashua during the closure of the Chestnut Street courthouse. Marital cases for the southern district of Hillsborough County will continue to be heard in the Superior Court. (See next month’s Bar News for an update on the Family Division in Manchester.)
Hill North and Hill South will have separate jury pools, with jurors picked for each district on alternate Mondays.
Generally, Hillsborough North cases will be heard in courtrooms on the second floor; Hill South cases on the third floor. Judge William Groff will continue as Supervisory Judge of Hill South, while Judge James D. O’Neill, III is the Supervisory Judge for Hill North. Chief Justice Lynn will sit roughly two days a week in Nashua, using the jury assembly room. Assignments for the Superior Court for 2010 are on hold until the four judicial nominees are confirmed and sworn-in. At least one of those new judges, Judge Lynn said, will likely be assigned to Hillsborough North or South.
Unpleasant truths and unresolved issuesParking will be a challenge. Parking has been a continuing topic of discussion. Courthouse staff and security will use most of the Nashua courthouse parking lot, which has a capacity of about 130 spaces on a first-come, first-served basis. While that will leave some 50 spots free, the lot will accommodate only a small number of court users on most days, leaving many litigants, lawyers, and even jurors fending for themselves to find parking. Metered, on-street parking is available, but not reliably so. Court-goers may also park at either of two garages located within several blocks of the courthouse. Tip: Keep a roll of quarters or two in your car’s glove compartment.
The project management team that has overseen the planning of this move has met several times with Nashua city officials, including Mayor Donnalee Lozeau. The city may offer some additional parking dedicated to courthouse use. Nashua city officials are concerned that the added parking demand in the downtown generated by the courthouse will take away parking opportunities for patrons of downtown businesses.
- Greater use of videoconferencing and teleconferencing. The Judicial Branch is investigating the feasibility of using existing equipment to establish a videoconferencing link between the Valley Street Jail and the Nashua courthouse. In these tight budget times, there are no funds for new equipment. Greater use of teleconferencing for non-evidentiary hearings or conferences will be encouraged.
Attorneys remain concerned that Manchester litigants without cars, particularly non-incarcerated criminal defendants, will have difficulty finding transportation to Nashua, and that this will impair access to justice, and that more travel-related continuances or delays may result.
- Manchester drop box – unlikely. This idea, raised by Manchester Bar representatives, has been discussed by judicial branch officials who believe it is not feasible because of the potential for deadline disputes, and because there are no funds to pay staff or a courier service to service the box for pick-ups.
- Probate Court Manchester sessions may continue. Robert Rivard, Hillsborough County Register of Probate, says that there are encouraging signs that the Probate Court, which now holds several sessions a week in a Manchester courtroom, will be able to offer similar service at the Amherst Street courthouse. Rivard said a courtroom has been identified but at press time, the arrangement had not been finalized.
Stay tuned for updatesThe Judicial Branch website at www.courts.state.nh.us has a link on its homepage for "Hillsborough North & South Updates" that provides information on the work of a judicial branch project management team that has been meeting for more than a year to plan the transition. The task force has met with various stakeholders in the transition, including the Hillsborough Count Attorney and the Public Defender, and with members of the Manchester and Nashua bar associations.
Check the Bar Association website for updates to this article, and for more resources as the closure date for Hillsborough North nears.