Political News

Feds consider closing Fayetteville, 59 other courthouses

Posted March 22, 2012

— The federal government is considering closing up to 60 court sites across the country, many located in small, rural communities, as part of an effort to cut costs.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show federal court facilities in 29 states could be on the chopping block. Many of the sites are in remote areas and critics say closing them could make it more difficult for people to get to court proceedings.

Six of the 60 court sites that could be closed are located in Arkansas. Texas and Georgia each have five courts on the list of possible closures. Officials are even considering shuttering the location where judges hold federal court in Alaska's capital city, Juneau.

The federal courthouse in Fayetteville is listed No. 60 on the list, making it least likely to be closed. The courthouse in Bryson City is fourth on the list, while one in Wilkesboro is 24th.

There are 674 federal courthouses and facilities around the country, according to David Sellers, a federal courts spokesman. The 60 sites being considered for closure do not have a resident judge. Instead, judges based in larger cities travel to these smaller locations as needed.

In the documents obtained by the AP, the courthouse facilities that could close were ranked based on a variety of categories including cost, usage and location. A facility in Beaufort, S.C., tops the list.

"The federal judiciary is going through an aggressive cost containment effort because the money Congress has provided for the operating expenses for the courts has been essentially frozen the last three years," Sellers said in an email.

He said a significant portion of those funds are used to pay rent for federal court facilities and pointed out that the court system is at the beginning of the process of reviewing which courthouse facilities could close.

A committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body for the federal courts, in February asked the 13 circuit judicial councils to review the list and recommend whether to keep the courts without resident judges, Sellers said. They're supposed to get back to the committee by mid-April.

The committee will then review the recommendations and forward its report to the Judicial Conference, which could decide whether to close any of the court sites at its September meeting, Sellers said.

He said it's too early to speculate how much could be saved or how many jobs could be lost by the possible closures.

"It would depend on what, if any, facilities are closed, when the closure would occur, the rent on the particular facility, staff located at the facility, other needs in the circuit, as well as many other factors that vary from facility to facility," Sellers said.

The effort to close the sites drew pushback from Judge J. Leon Holmes, the chief federal judge of the Eastern District of Arkansas, who argued that closing court facilities wouldn't make a significant reduction in the federal budget.

"If the federal courts close their facilities in these places, the money will quit going from one pocket of the federal government to another pocket of the federal government, but little or no savings to the taxpayers will be seen," Holmes wrote in a letter dated Feb. 23 and sent to local bar associations. "Instead, the taxpayers will be forced to travel longer distances to appear in court as parties, witnesses, or jurors."

Holmes, who is based in Little Rock, specifically spoke against closing the Batesville, Ark. court facility, which ranked seventh on the possible closure list. He said he wouldn't argue for building a new court facility there if the court was starting from scratch.

"(B)ut we are not starting from scratch," he wrote in another letter dated March 14. "The building is there, and it is already paid for."

Holmes also pointed to the potential hardships that closing a court facility could mean to Batesville, a city of 10,000 located in a remote part of the state.

"Travel through the mountains in this region of Arkansas is exclusively on two-lane highways," he wrote. "Consequently, the actual driving time from one point to another is much greater than may appear in looking on a map or in calculating distances."

Batesville is about 70 miles from the nearest federal court site in Jonesboro, but that court site is also on the list. It's about 100 miles from Batesville to Little Rock, which has the only federal court site in the Eastern District of Arkansas that isn't on the chopping block.

Holmes also said he was concerned that the possible closures would affect a relatively poor region.

"Many of the persons in the poorer and more remote areas of our state cannot easily travel to Little Rock to attend bankruptcy court or any other proceeding," Holmes wrote.

The push to close small federal court offices is not new. Sellers said the practice of reviewing court facilities that don't have a resident judge goes back to 1997.

Still, some judges have expressed concerns about the renewed effort due to budget concerns this year.

"Although we fought this issue successfully a few years ago, the budget pressures are greater now and the drive within the judiciary to contain costs is much stronger," Holmes wrote in the February letter.

___

Follow Jeannie Nuss at http://twitter.com/jeannienuss

19 Comments

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  • fayncmike Mar 23, 2012

    "The federal court space in Fayetteville, NC is located in the US Post Office building. How will this balance out cost wise? Govt. paying rental space on govt property looks like a wash out to me. The court system quits paying them rent and the Fed Bldgs income is reduced by the same amount--paper savings verse paper loss unless the govt can rent the court space to a non govt. enterprise.
    bluebirdlover"

    After the court is closed the employees won't be paid, will they?

  • whatusay Mar 23, 2012

    Why doesn't the Fed's turn the courthouses into welfare offices. There seems to be plenty of money to support welfare.

  • kermit60 Mar 23, 2012

    Make it happen. Everybody wants lower taxes, wants the government at all levels to save money. They all want it as long as it's not in there area or as long as it doesn't effect them. Any cuts anywhere is going to effect somebody.

  • jdupree Mar 22, 2012

    Way past needing to be done. In NC we only need 5 or 6 at most and possibly only 3, East, Middle and Western. I do research and have been in these places and most are empty most of the time. The Judges dockets are way too light, thus making them way over paid for what they do!

  • mmtlash Mar 22, 2012

    still find it odd that they are considering closing the courthouse in the state capital of Alaska. Think of how far those people would have to travel to the nearest courthouse (which I'm assuming would be Anchorage)....plus come on even though it is Alaska it's the state capital. Imagine them closing the courthouse in Raleigh and having everyone in the state travel to Charlotte

  • SurvivorOne Mar 22, 2012

    Feds wanna cut costs? Cut Senate and Congress pay by 65 percent. Make them all pay 50 percent tax. Buy their own health insurance.
    Gee, that was easy. Balanced the budget and cut the def in half !

  • mspatag Mar 22, 2012

    With the way the government messes up everything, it's going to wind up being like Mayberry, one police car, 1 sheriff, 1 deputy, the sheriff acting as sheriff, jailer,judge, bondsman. This should make the Otis's of the counties happy. Sit in jail till the circut judge makes his rounds to all the small towns.
    We're in the year of 2012, when the government gets through we'll be back to horse and wagons. That is if you can afford the horse and wagon.

  • hardycitrus Mar 22, 2012

    I wonder how many of these area are also going to lose their post offices? Elect Romney, and these areas will go back to the stone age.

  • tony16 Mar 22, 2012

    " I think they should cut it down to only 50" Scare Crow

    You might think differently IF you lived 200+ miles from the only Fed. courthouse and had to serve on a jury or grand jury (the grand jury term is several months), or possibly, IF you were the victim of a Federal crime and had to go to court proceedings over several months. Think Alaska, Calif. or Texas.
    Even in NC, if the few other Fed. courthouses were closed, the Feds would need to build a much larger facility in Greensboro, Winston-Salem or Raleigh to handle the caseload. Not so convenient for folks east of here if the only courthouse were in W-S. These Fed. bldgs. usually house Fed Marshall's offices, postal service facilities and other Fed. offices that would need to rent space locall. PROVE the cost savings, which hopefully, they will.

  • 2gurlz2boyzMom Mar 22, 2012

    stop buying brand new cars every year for govt officials, and police officers, and dot.... let the old ones wear out...repair them... spend $$ on better things!

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