Editorial: Southold Town needs a justice court building

Southold Town is exploring the option of adding a $3 million courthouse building behind Town Hall. (Credit: Grant Parpan)
Southold Town is exploring the option of adding a $3 million courthouse building behind Town Hall. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

The easiest, most cost-effective solution to Southold Town’s justice court problem is to construct a new building on town-owned property behind Town Hall.

Town officials said Tuesday that such a project would carry a $3 million price tag, a reasonable sum to fix a growing problem. 

When judicial operations were moved to Town Hall in the early 1980s, a modular extension was built to house justice court staff on a temporary basis. Over 30 years later, court operations have more than outgrown that space.

As our cover story this week details, a bathroom has become a kitchen and a meeting room is used as a storage area. Files are stacked on desks because the cabinets meant to house them are full. There’s also the issue of public safety, as the business of the court is too often forced to mix with that of the general public.

A lawsuit filed last week against Southold Town, among other East End municipalities, seeks to formally remedy the substandard conditions. The suit claims that defendants appearing in the courts are having their Sixth Amendment rights violated and that their cases should be transferred to county court in Central Islip.

Surely, the taxpayers of Southold can afford to give the justice court a more reasonable workspace, and trying to address the problem with a Band-Aid approach — which would likely cost $1 million anyway — will only cost more in the long run.

The Town Board would be wise to explore an option similar to Southampton Town’s new justice court, which was constructed in 2010 at a cost of about $3 million: a 9,000-square-foot prefabricated modular courthouse behind Town Hall.

Anyone who’s unsure about how reasonable that price is should take a look at the study prepared for the Town of Riverhead about renovating the armory building on Route 58. That project is estimated to cost $13 million.

One councilman pointed out Tuesday that Southold also has to take a close look at other repairs needed at Town Hall, such as an HVAC project that could cost $1 million alone.

There’s no doubt all these things need to be addressed or that the town is going to spend millions of dollars over the next decade or longer modernizing its Town Hall facilities.

Building a justice court would be an appropriate first step that recognizes the need for space and improved public safety at what, at first glance, appears to be a fair price.