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US closing courthouses in NC, Okla., W.Va., Wyo.

Created: 11/20/2013 5:05 PM

(AP) OKLAHOMA CITY - The U.S. federal court system announced Wednesday that four courthouses are closing by the end of the year as a way to save money, but a court official and lawyer in one of the affected states said it will have little impact on the judicial process.

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said courthouses would be shuttered in Bryson City, N.C.; McAlester, Okla.; Parkersburg, W.Va.; and Jackson, Wyo., by the end of the year and save the country $551,000 annually. The move to close the courts is part of a campaign started nearly a decade ago to close under-utilized courts in an effort to save the federal judiciary money. The closures were initiated and approved by the Circuit courts, and all four are "non-resident" facilities, meaning they do not have a resident federal judge.

"The McAlester courthouse was not, we didn’t hear a lot of cases down there. The impact to me would probably be minimal impact," said Patrick Keaney, court clerk for the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Oklahoma, which includes the Carl Albert Federal Courthouse in McAlester. Most federal cases were already heard in a federal courthouse 65 miles away in Muskogee, he said.

The last case heard at the McAlester courthouse was a bankruptcy case in August. Its closure, on Nov. 30, is expected to save the judiciary more than $176,000 annually, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The Clifford P. Hansen U.S. Courthouse in Jackson, Wyo., closed on Oct. 31, saving an estimated $75,000 per year, while the courthouse in Bryson City, N.C. will shutter at the end of December for a savings of more than $127,000 annually.

On Friday, the Southern District of West Virginia will cease using its court facility in Parkersburg, saving the judiciary nearly $133,000 each year. The building, according to the General Services Administration, was in disrepair, and its main tenant, the U.S. Postal Service, was moving out. The court hadn’t had a full-time district, magistrate, bankruptcy or circuit judge at the facility since 1992, according to a written statement from Chief Judge Robert C. Chambers.

"While the Court regrets the loss of its courtroom at Parkersburg, it does not feel that it can justify the expense of approximately $1 million to $1.5 million to the taxpayer for build out costs of similar space in another location," Chambers said.

The four court facilities closing are in addition to six courthouses that the Judiciary Conference announced last year would be closed by 2016, saving an estimated $1 million. Those court facilities are located in Gadsden, Ala., Pikeville, Ky.; Meridian, Miss.; Wilkesboro, N.C.; Beaufort, S.C.; and Amarillo, Texas.

Jeremy Beaver, whose Gotcher and Beaver law office is located just a half-block from the federal courthouse in McAlester, said that in his decade of representing clients in federal court, he’s never tried a case there and has always had to travel to Muskogee.

"I had just assumed it was closed for years," he said.

The only time Beaver actually stepped foot inside the building was about a year ago, when he acted as a judge in a high school court competition. He said he could tell the facility wasn’t used often.

"It didn’t appear like there was anybody using the offices. I didn’t see any papers or evidence of dockets or anything like that. It just smelled empty and old," he said.

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Follow Kristi Eaton on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kristieaton

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