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Jul 22, 2008 3:34 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Justice Court to get new venue

Jul 22, 2008 3:34 PM

One of the busiest courts in the State of New York will receive a change of venue by year’s end, if not sooner.

Southampton Town Justice Court, presently functioning in the overcrowded basement of Town Hall in Southampton Village, will be moving into temporary quarters at Jackson Avenue in Hampton Bays. Town Management Services Administrator Richard Blowes said the court could possibly be set up as early as November.

Mr. Blowes estimated the cost to move the court at around $2 million, money taken from the town’s capital budget to purchase the two modular units that will house the new court. One unit is already on site, and the other is on its way. The town purchased the additional unit from the Pennsylvania-based manufacturer Markline.

Mr. Blowes explained that once the pre-fabricated units are assembled, they will create one building that will accommodate all facets of the court—including offices for the district attorneys, court officers, clerks and justices.

The move into the modular units is a temporary one, as there are long-range plans in the works to construct a new courthouse at the Jackson Avenue site, Mr. Blowes said. “I don’t see the court being in the temporary units for more than five years,” he said.

The court currently operates out of the Town Hall basement, and overcrowding has become a major problem. In fact, the court is so crowded now that prisoners use the same bathrooms as court employees. Parking also is an issue, and the transportation of prisoners to and from court has been a concern, as defendants are brought into court in close proximity to the Southampton Elementary School playground next door.

Town Justice Barbara Wilson said the current facilities in the basement are outdated and inadequate to serve the needs of the court. But she also worries about the safety of the schoolchildren next door and the school employees. “What’s to prevent an outraged prisoner from harming one of the children or from running into Town Hall and harming a town official? It’s not a good situation,” the justice said.

Part of the long-range plans for the new Justice Court include an underground tunnel to escort prisoners to court. Once the interim court is up, prisoners will be held in a gated area and brought in through a separate entrance. Plans also include space for people waiting to appear, which is not currently available in the basement court.

Not only does the Justice Court hear all civil and criminal cases, it hears traffic cases as well. Town records for 2006 indicate that more than 30,000 traffic citations were processed by the court, more than 4,000 civil cases were heard, and nearly 4,200 criminal cases were tried. Four town justices preside over Justice Court, which is staffed by 14 full-time employees.

The permanent relocation of the court to Jackson Avenue is part of an overall scheme to construct a state-of-the-art municipal complex that would cost in the tens of millions of dollars and take up to a decade to build. Along with the Justice Court, new facilities for the Southampton Town Police Department, Department of Public Works, Parks and 
Recreation, and Highway Department are being considered for the site.

With its central location and situated near three major thoroughfares—Sunrise Highway, Montauk Highway, and Route 24—town planners have argued that the Jackson Avenue property is ideal for such a municipal complex.

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