Officials in the administration of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may scrap nearly two centuries of thinking on where the state’s courthouses are located, the Boston Globe reports. They are proposing to replace 116 individual buildings with about 20 regional justice centers that they say would be cheaper and more efficient. State officials say virtually every resident would be within 15 miles of a courthouse. State Finance Secretary Eric Kriss says state courts are being operated as if the Commonwealth was “frozen in the horse-and-buggy era.”
The state is saddled with a large number of aging buildings — the average age of a courthouse is 90 years, and a quarter date to the 1800s — that are expensive to staff, heat, and maintain, officials say.
Lawmakers rebuffed Romney’s attempt to close eight district courts last year, restoring funding to six, and reversed his attempt to integrate the Boston Municipal Court into the state district court system.
Financial details of the justice center concept have not been worked out, but administration officials believe the cost of the regional centers could be offset by not having to pay rent on buildings. Money for construction could also come from a bond bill approved for court construction several years ago.
Officials are saying it would be shortsighted not to question the basic assumptions of the current system — starting with where courts are located.