National courts group recommends closing courthouses

Lake court.JPG

I reported earlier about concern in northeastern Minnesota that the Minnesota State Courts system might move to close some of the state’s rural courtrooms, due to a tight state budget and the relative lack of business in some remote county courts.

State court officials told me it was something they considered — but only briefly — before rejecting the idea. It probably wouldn’t save money since juries, defendants, county prosecutors and others would just have to travel to whatever court rooms are still open.

County officials in remote places like Cook County can’t help but worry about the idea since it could greatly increase how much counties would have to pay to administer justice for locals.

A Minnesota court committee, the Access and Services Delivery Committee, decided last year not to pursue any closings. The committee did suggest that the Minnesota Judicial Council, a panel that actually makes those kind of decisions, consider some re-organization models that would have reduced the total number of Minnesota judicial districts from the current ten districts to seven.

But Judge John Rodenberg of New Ulm, who chaired the committee says the Judicial Council decided not to pursue consolidation either.

So, the state courts will seek other efficiencies, keeping 10 judicial districts, and keeping court rooms in business in all 87 Minnesota counties. Case closed.

Or is it?

I was contacted by another rural judge, from Renville County, who told me that an independent organization, the National Center for State Courts, had recently studied Minnesota’s 8th judicial district, recommending it close court rooms in counties with no chambered judge.

That doesn’t change the outcome. It’s still up to the state’s Minnesota Judicial Council where court is held, and the council is keeping them all open, for now.

But it does suggest today’s status quo may not be the final word.

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