NEW BRITAIN – After years of being discussed internally but never materializing, the end of the Bristol courthouse finally came Friday, and with it an influx of cases will be heading to New Britain.
The New Britain courthouse will be absorbing the Bristol courthouse effective Monday. The official decision came in April, while the last day of operation in Bristol was Friday.
With the consolidation, the New Britain courthouse is expected to see 17% more cases than before.
“The staffs at both courthouses have done outstanding work in bringing about this change,” said Rhonda Herbert, spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch.
According to the judicial branch, Bristol court, known as Geographical Area 17, had 4,524 cases from 2017 to 2018. New Britain, which is also known as Geographical Area 15, had 27,227 cases from 2017 to 2018, which include infractions. The Part A, or more serious felony cases, was already being transferred from Bristol to New Britain.
In terms of staffing, New Britain will see six new judges assigned to the courthouse, with four of them leaving, including Judge Joan Alexander, who oversaw most of the criminal Part A cases for about four years in New Britain. A judge for almost 20 years, she will be transferring to the Bridgeport courthouse and continue being an administrative judge. As Chief Administrative Judge, she oversees all judges for the criminal division in the entire state.
“New Britain is a very good courthouse to work at,” Alexander said. “They’re very effective…They are getting a very excellent judge with judge Keegan coming in. I think they are going to do very well combining New Britain and Bristol. They set a very high standard for a judicial district.”
Judge Maureen Keegan will oversee most cases for the criminal division in New Britain after the merger. She will be coming from the Middlesex Judicial District in Middletown. Judge John Cronan, the lone judge in Bristol, was transferred to New Haven.
Transferring from the Bristol courthouse to the New Britain courthouse are seven judicial marshals, two from the clerk’s office, two bail commissioners, a night bail commissioner and a family relations counselor. One staffer from Bristol retired as the others were transferred to other courts. No judicial branch employees were lost as a result of the merger.
New Britain State’s attorney Brian Preleski said coming to New Britain from Bristol will be three prosecutors, one investigator and one secretary, but one of the prosecutors may be transferred to Manchester. Michael Isko, supervisor of the public defender’s office in New Britain, declined to say how many staff members were joining his office beyond the appropriate amount needed.
No new work spaces are being created to accommodate the new staff as there is adequate space already in place in New Britain. There are enough holding cells to accommodate the additional caseload too, Herbert said.
In addition to hearing criminal, civil and housing cases, New Britain has a cafeteria, a public information desk and court service center, which help direct people in court to where they need to go. Bristol did not have those.
“That’s a plus,” Herbert said of the public information desk and court service center.
At the moment, the Part A cases, pre-trials and arraignments are held in courtroom 1A, the less serious Part B cases are in courtroom 1B, and trials are held in courtroom 1C and 1D. If there is no trial in session, courtrooms 1C and 1D are used for infraction dockets, which are three days a week.
Those assignments for the courtrooms are expected to remain the same, but may be subject to change, Herbert said. The courthouse has three more floors of courtrooms, but those are assigned for civil, juvenile and other matters. Herbert declined to say if those rooms will be used or provide any more detail on how the increased caseload may impact the timing of when cases are heard.
Prior to the consolidation, regular court appearances in courtrooms 1A and 1B are usually held in the morning, with arraignments beginning to be held around noon before the 1 to 2 p.m. recess break, and then court adjourning between 3 and 4 p.m.
“We cannot predict on any particular day how long a docket may take to complete,” Herbert said. “The staff at the New Britain Judicial District are in the best position to determine how best to schedule the daily dockets and in what courtrooms to utilize.”
Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or firstname.lastname@example.org.