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Watertown to add second city courtroom to meet state mandate

Payne Horning
WRVO News (file photo)

In response to a state requirement, the city of Watertown will be placing a second courtroom in its City Hall. The Watertown City Council unanimously agreed to the decision last week after much debate with the state over what many council members and citizens say is an unfunded mandate.

James Tormey, administrative judge for the state’s fifth judicial district, met with the council last week and said the city needs the courtroom to properly accommodate the second full-time judge it has had since 2014. Though he acknowledged the process may be confusing, he said adding a second courtroom is required by law.

“The time has come when it has to be done,” Tormey said during a council meeting last week. “And it’s not anything I have done myself. I’m following the law.”

Watertown mayor Joe Butler said he is not happy with the mandate but the city has to comply with the mandate to avoid losing $5 million in state aid.

“I’m just simply not in a position to risk the financial strength of the city and to have them withhold several million of dollars of aid at a time when we certainly need it,” Butler said.

Tormey said a second court is also needed so the city’s two full-time judges can handle the increase in veterans and opioid cases in upcoming years. The opioid crisis especially requires more attention, he said.

“It’s very intense,” Tormey said. “It takes space, and it takes a courtroom.”

City councilor Sarah Compo said she and others are going to continue to push for state funding for the project, which she said other cities have received for similar mandates.

“There are at least a couple other municipalities that have received some assistance, and hopefully, I would like to see if we can also benefit from that,” Compo said.

Now that the immediate needs of the second courtroom have been addressed, the city has until May 15 to decide on a long-range capital plan for the new courtroom, which is expected to cost up to $5 million.

Jason has served as WRVO's news director in some capacity since August 2017. As news director, Jason produces hourly newscasts, and helps direct local news coverage and special programming. Before that, Jason hosted Morning Edition on WRVO from 2009-2019. Jason came to WRVO in January of 2008 as a producer/reporter. Before that, he spent two years as an anchor/reporter at WSYR Radio in Syracuse.