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Judge: one courtroom causing delays in Watertown City Court

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WATERTOWN — Having a second City Court judge and still only one courtroom at City Hall is causing a backlog of cases, according to the administrative judge who oversees the region.

In a strongly worded email to city officials on Monday, Judge James C. Tormey, the Fifth Judicial District’s administrative judge, said the two judges have to take turns because the city has refused to build a second courtroom.

The lack of a courtroom for each judge is “causing more delays,” he wrote, comparing the situation with “having two workers remove product off a conveyor belt, but only allowing one to work at a time.”

Under state law, the city must provide a second courtroom to accommodate the promotion of Catherine J. Palermo to full-time judge, according to court administration officials. That would allow the two judges to hear cases simultaneously.

City officials have objected, saying that adding a second courtroom on the first floor of City Hall would cost about $1.5 million. While the state pays the salaries of judges and court staff, the city would have to pay for the renovations.

In his email, Judge Tormey urged the City Council to reconsider its recent decision not to add a second first-floor courtroom at City Hall. On Wednesday, City Manager Sharon A. Addison responded that city officials have not changed their minds.

“The council and I are on the same page,” she said, stressing council members are not interested in a second courtroom.

Ms. Addison has not spoken with Judge Tormey since he sent the email on Monday, nor has she discussed it with Judge Palermo or the other full-time magistrate, Judge Eugene R. Renzi.

On Wednesday, Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns said she believes that the city probably will have to add the other courtroom.

“If the judge insists, I don’t see any way around it,” she said.

Since the issue came up this winter, the city and the court administration have traded schematics on how a second courtroom could be added. The city proposed reconfiguring court offices for use as a courtroom. Judge Tormey suggested that turning the code enforcement office into one might be simpler and less expensive.

In his email, Judge Tormey reminded city officials that the state pays the city $1 million each year to provide court services there.

Judge Tormey also defended recent criticism that the courtroom is not always used, adding that criminal and civil cases are held in it. In the past, he pointed out that judges from other municipalities have handled a backlog of cases.

He told council members that the second courtroom would “expedite cases in the best interests of the courts and citizenry.” In 2012, more than 9,000 cases were handled there, including 2,452 criminal, 5,773 traffic summonses, 708 civil, 235 small claims and 579 summary proceedings, he wrote. The court is used on about 240 work days a year, he added.

Earlier this month, Judge Palermo became the second city magistrate thanks to legislation approved last year by the state Legislature. Judge Renzi was elected to the full-time position in November 2011.

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