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City may not go along with plans for another courtroom

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City officials object to adding a courtroom on the first floor of City Hall to accommodate a second full-time city judge.

On Tuesday, City Manager Sharon A. Addison said she plans to send a letter to the Fifth Judicial District saying the city “is not going to build a second courtroom at this time.”

The state has said the city needs to set aside first-floor space for a second courtroom that will accommodate the promotion of Catherine J. Palermo to full-time judge.

“They have not provided anything in writing that requires a second courtroom,” Ms. Addison said.

According to state law, the city is required to provide a courtroom for each judge, said Gerard J. Neri, the judicial district’s special counsel.

City officials said that adding a second courtroom will be expensive, projecting it would cost about $1.5 million. The city is required to pay for the renovations, while the state court administration is responsible for judge and court staff salaries.

Last month, the city submitted conceptual plans to convert court offices into a second courtroom. Judicial district officials disliked those plans, citing the constraints of a low ceiling and security concerns.

Instead, they suggested converting the city Code Enforcement office into the additional courtroom.

“It will be easier and less expensive,” Mr. Neri said.

But city staff disagreed with that assessment, Ms. Addison said.

At her suggestion, a meeting between city staff and the judicial district was canceled Tuesday. Mr. Neri recommended the city send written notification to Administrative Judge James C. Tormey III to let him know the city’s views.

Ms. Addison plans to send the letter after discussing the issue with the City Council on April 7.

On Tuesday, Judge Palermo becomes the second city magistrate thanks to legislation approved last year by the state Legislature. Her colleague, Judge Eugene R. Renzi, was elected to the full-time position in November 2011.

“The two judges would handle cases simultaneously,” Mr. Neri said, noting the second judge was added to eliminate a backlog of cases in Watertown City Court. “The idea is to get cases done quicker.”

Saying it was a good idea to slow down the decision process, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham contended that creative scheduling could be used because the courtroom is not always in use.

One of the two judges may also be assigned, at times, to other nearby courts and be away from City Court.

By the time it goes through the bidding process, it will take at least a year to complete construction of the second courtroom, the mayor said.

In the meantime, the city has found office space for Judge Palermo, who now handles cases on Fridays, when Judge Renzi doesn’t sit on the bench, and on Saturdays for arraignments.

In a related matter, the City Council agreed earlier this month that the city should pursue “home rule” legislation requesting that Judge Palermo’s judgeship become an elected position. As the law stands, Judge Palermo could be reappointed after her term ends in 2017.

Judge Palermo, who previously worked part time, became the second full-time city judge as an appointed position.

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