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Delaware Docket Newsletter
Summer 2014

Offices of the Chief Justice and the Administrative Office of the Courts Relocate as Part of Long-Term Vision for Judicial Facilities Statewide

The Chambers of Chief Justice Leo E. Strine, Jr., are situated in the Renaissance Centre across from the New Castle County Courthouse (NCCCH). The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) will relocated from the courthouse into the Renaissance Centre in early August. The move marks the beginning of the implementation of a long-term vision to address growing space deficiencies by investing in court facilities across the state.

Stephanie Fitzgerald, Court Administrator, Delaware Court of Common Pleas, stated:
"The space needs of the Court of Common Pleas in New Castle County have hit a critical point and must be immediately addressed if we are going to continue to provide a high quality of service to the public."

When the NCCCH was designed more than 15 years ago on a tight budget, it was understood that future alterations would be necessary to ensure that the courthouse could meet the changing and growing requirements of the courts in that building. In 2012, a NCCCH space study identified the most critical space issues faced by the four courts co-located in the NCCCH. Those space deficiencies included additional space for clerk's offices' operations, more and larger courtrooms, and rooms for mediation and other alternative dispute resolution. In particular, serious inadequacies in the Court of Common Pleas (CCP) Clerk's Office were identified because of insufficient space for staff, equipment, and files. The lack of courtrooms with adequate seating to accommodate large calendars (including non-jury and arraignment calendars) is a growing issue.

The Court of Chancery currently runs its critical operations from two separate locations in the NCCCH. "Relocating the Register in Chancery from the 1st floor to the 11th floor will enhance operational efficiencies since we will be adjacent to Court Chambers," stated Karlis Johnson, Court of Chancery Court Administrator. She also noted: "The 2012 space study recommended moving the Register in Chancery from the 1st floor to the 7th floor to provide CCP with necessary expansion room, and then to the 11th floor at a later date to consolidate court operations. A move to the 7th floor makes no sense, since Register in Chancery staff would be no closer to their judges or courtrooms, and would be inundated with walk-in traffic from litigants appearing in other courts whose questions we could not answer. By moving to the 11th floor now we avoid the cost " estimated at more than $1 million " associated with building offices on the 7th floor, which would have been deconstructed eventually to be replaced by courtrooms, since the 7th floor was designed to be used for courtrooms. Relocating to the AOC's space on the 11th floor will also allow the Court of Chancery much needed space to hold mediations. Currently, parties mediating important business disputes in the Court of Chancery have no appropriate place to do so."

Additionally, the Supreme Court space in the Carvel Building in Wilmington has remained relatively unchanged since 1978. The original plan for the NCCCH included relocating the Supreme Court to that facility in 2002, but other more pressing court needs, and budget constraints, scuttled that plan. On a long-term basis, the Supreme Court has supported efforts to address other courts' space needs at the expense of its own. There are strong policy reasons for the Supreme Court and the Arms of Court to be located in close proximity to the trial courts and the AOC. The AOC serves as the administrative "arm" of the Chief Justice and operational efficiencies require its co-location with the Supreme Court. For 25 years " until it was moved to the NCCCH in 2002 " the AOC was co-located with the Supreme Court.

The interim move of the AOC and the Chief Justice's Chambers to the Renaissance Centre offers an immediate opportunity to relieve the NCCCH's most urgent space issues and provide tremendous benefits to the courts located in the NCCCH. It also avoids the aggravation of space issues within the existing Wilmington location of the Supreme Court. This move serves as the first step in realizing the vision for statewide judicial space needs, which will include bringing all of the Wilmington Supreme Court Chambers together with the AOC in close proximity with the trial courts, and in addressing the serious inadequacies in the Family Court facilities in Kent and Sussex County, among other critical needs.