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Bar News - May 20, 2015

Morning Mail: Do We Really Need a New Courthouse in Concord?

I have been reading with interest about plans to build a new Merrimack County Superior Courthouse. We are told that this new building is essential and the estimated cost of this building would be $18 million. In a recent Bar News article it was stated that a major reason a new courthouse is needed is that the growing volume of cases the superior court handles has severely outpaced any minor increases in storage capacity. Office space also is inadequate. I have practiced in that courthouse for the past 30 years and these rationales tend to confuse me.

Anyone who has practiced for a while will remember the 2004 creation of the family court. Before that time, marital cases were all handled in the superior court. Every day the lobby was filled with litigants and their lawyers preparing for hearings in front of the marital masters. And then it ended. All marital cases were transferred to the new family courts. And the lobby was a whole lot emptier.

Whether or not one agreed with the creation of a family court, it was sold to us in part by the promise that the workload in the superior courts would be reduced by an average of 50 percent due to the transfer of marital cases. Work load reduced by 50 percent. Number of files reduced by 50 percent. Need for storage reduced by 50 percent. I am having a hard time, therefore, understanding how we have now run out of space. There are two non-jury courtrooms that are virtually never used. There is a suite of offices that are vacant. And the sheriff’s department moved out of the basement of the building a few years ago which, I must assume, has freed up space.

And I do not see how the building of a new courthouse will help with the increased volume of cases. There are only two judges sitting now and a new courthouse will not add a third. Unless the plan is to add a third judge, which I have not heard about.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against a new courthouse. I am just hoping that someone can clear up my confusion. If there is a valid need to spend $18 million on a new courthouse, please explain why that is so. If it is only offered that this need has been created by the increased volume of cases and the lack of storage, maybe this should be looked at again.

James H. Moir
Canterbury, NH

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