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Four Non-Resident Court Facilities to Close in Cost-Cutting Move

Four non-resident court facilities are being closed in the final months of 2013, as part of a continuing effort to reduce federal Judiciary expenses. The closures—in West Virginia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Wyoming—will save an estimated $551,000 in rent for the judiciary annually.

The closures accelerate a Judiciary campaign to reduce rents that began nearly a decade ago. In September 2012, the Judicial Conference of the United States announced that six non-resident court facilities would be closed. The four newest closures were initiated and approved by their respective Circuits, and were not among the six courts approved for closure last year.  

Non-resident court facilities maintain a courtroom, sometimes in larger federal office buildings, but no longer have a full-time resident federal judge. Such courts accommodate periodic trials and hearings, presided over by visiting judges from other cities, and reduce travel time for litigants, witnesses and jurors in federal court proceedings.

In a press release issued this week, the Southern District of West Virginia said its court facility in Parkersburg will close on Nov. 22. According to the release, the General Services Administration had said the federal building was in disrepair, and the building’s main tenant, the U.S. Postal Service, was moving out.

“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,” wrote Chief Judge Robert C. Chambers, of the Southern District of West Virginia.

With the closing of the Parkersburg facility, there will be an annual rent savings to the judiciary of $132,888. Cases formerly filed in the Parkersburg facility, which had 8,882 usable square feet, will be handled in Charleston.

The other recently approved closures are as follows:

  • On Oct. 31, the Clifford P. Hansen U.S. Courthouse in Jackson, Wyoming, was closed by the Tenth Circuit. A total of 2,688 usable square feet was released back to the GSA, at an estimated annual savings to the Judiciary of $74,875.  
  •  Effective Nov. 30, the Tenth Circuit is closing the Carl Albert Federal Building Courthouse in McAlester, Oklahoma, where the last bankruptcy case was heard in August. Total annual savings, including rent payments to the GSA and security costs, will be $176,231. The building has 6,190 usable square feet.    
  • At the end of December, the Fourth Circuit will close 7,564 usable square feet at the Bryson City, North Carolina, court facility, for an annual savings of $127,192. A probation office at the Bryson City court building will be closed in 2015, saving an additional $40,156 per year.

Six additional closures were announced last year by the Judicial Conference. Court facilities in Gadsden, Alabama; Pikeville, Kentucky; and Meridian, Mississippi, were released back to the GSA in 2013. Facilities in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, and Beaufort, South Carolina, will be released in 2014, and Amarillo, Texas, is to be released in 2016. Total annual rent savings to the judiciary from the six closures are estimated at $1 million.

Rent payments to the GSA account for about $1 billion of the federal Judiciary’s $6.6 billion budget. Cutting rent costs, and space has been a key part of Judiciary cost containment efforts since 2004.

According to Chief Justice John G. Roberts’ Jr.’s 2012 Year-End Report on the Judiciary, “Our most significant cost containment success has been in controlling rent costs.” The report noted that efforts since 2005 had lowered annual projected Judiciary rent costs by $322 million.

The space-cutting initiative gained additional momentum in September, when the Judicial Conference approved plans to reduce total federal court-facility space 3 percent by the end of Fiscal Year 2018.

Related Topics: Cost Containment, Judicial Conference of the United States