Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Courthouse closures in nonmetro America

That's the topic of this story on NPR today, with Emily Green reporting from Coalinga, California and Meridian, Mississippi.  Those are two places where courthouses are closing or have closed.  In Coalinga, which is in Fresno County but an hour from Fresno (city) and the main superior court, the closure is of a state courthouse.  In Meridian, the closure is of a federal courthouse--indeed, the very courthouse where members of the Ku Klux Klan were tried 46 years ago for the murder of three civil rights workers.

Of and from Coalinga, population 13,380, Green reports:
[N]ow, in the wood-paneled courtroom, a large flat-screen television hangs where the podium used to be. Due to budget cuts, Fresno County closed the courthouse last year. Now, it uses video streaming, via the television, to hold traffic court. 
For small claims cases and criminal arraignments, everyone — including police officers — has to travel more than an hour to Fresno. Last year, those travel expenses cost the Coalinga Police Department around $25,000.
The state of California, she says, is in the process of closing 77 courthouses. For others, hours are being reduced.  Green quotes Gary Hoff, presiding judge of the Fresno County Superior Court:
We knew that closing the courts would deny people in outlying jurisdictions the availability of going to a local courthouse to take care of their business.  I know others have disagreed with our choice, but financially we could not do anything else but close those courts. We have to live within our budget.
I have written about the challenges of rural spatiality to the administration of justice here and here.  

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