Schenectady County

State Bar to study courthouse conditions

Surveys and visits will be part of a new study of the state’s courthouses begun this week by the New

Surveys and visits will be part of a new study of the state’s courthouses begun this week by the New York State Bar Association.

The 74,000-member organization of lawyers created a task force that will start surveying attorneys, judges, court staff and others.

Bar Association President Bernice K. Leber said members of the volunteer task force, and the Bar Association itself, feel it’s their duty to do what they can to work to improve how court facilities impact the work that takes place in them.

“I think one of our missions as lawyers is to improve the court system,” Leber said.

Leber said issues to be studied include lighting, adequate parking after hours, security and the amenities available in courthouses.

“When the public walks into a courthouse, do they feel it’s a comfortable place, a welcoming place?” Leber said.

Leber said conversations she’s had indicate that some courthouses, built decades ago, have high ceilings that make it difficult to hear.

In the older days, Leber said, there used to be telephones in courtrooms, but that doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

“It would be much easier to not only try a case but also to get work done if you had better access to telecommunications,” Leber said.

“A lot of buildings were built back at the turn of the century,” Leber said.

Other issues to be explored include whether there is enough meeting space available for attorneys to speak privately with clients, and whether there’s a place to get a cup of coffee in courthouses.

The task force will visit courts throughout the state and gauge whether people can find basic information there and whether signs are adequately directing clients to where they have to go.

The group will also try to determine whether the courts are easily accessible for people with physical disabilities.

The availability of accommodations such as restrooms, chairs, water fountains, coat rooms and lunch facilities will also be gauged.

It’s too early yet to tell if the task forces will be visiting local courts like those at the town and village level, Leber said.

The task force itself is expecting to schedule some hearings and take testimony to include in a report, Leber said. That report will also include a review of other studies focusing on the court facilities, Leber said.

The task force will also explore how any suggested improvements might be paid for, Leber said.

“At the end of the day, with the new surveys, with the hearings and with the existing literature, we’ll be able to have a pretty good idea how to wrap our arms around funding questions,” Leber said.

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