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Chief Justice Strine: we need new Family Court buildings

Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. is again warning that the state’s judicial system is underfunded, with “unsafe” facilities and vastly outdated technology.

During an early budget hearing with the Markell administration Thursday, Strine outlined the same requests he made last year, totaling $2.5 million extra in operating expenses.

Those include adding a parking stipend for employees working in the City of Wilmington and converting a handful of employees to full-time workers.

He also asked for another $5 million to pay for preliminary design work on new Family Court facilities in Kent and Sussex Counties.

Strine noted the buildings are overcrowded and unsafe, with victims and defendants sharing close quarters.

Several private attorneys and those working for nonprofits also backed up the chief justice’s take on the buildings.

James McGiffin, with the Community Legal Aid Society of Delaware, described the situation as a “powder keg”.

“The facility is so small that it is absolutely inevitable these folks are running into each other as they enter the building, as they leave the building,” said McGiffin. “My clients, who are typically women, cannot go to use the ladies room without walking, literally through the waiting room where the respondents are.”

The Joint Bond Bill Committee kicked the courts $500,000 last year for early planning and design costs. Strine says they’re also considering a uniform building plan for both counties to try and save money.

Half of the courts’ workers are in Wilmington and, on average, have to shell out about $1,700 annually to park – something that doesn’t affect court employees in Kent and Sussex Counties.

“The reality is, if you work in the City of Wilmington it costs you a substantial amount of money as a state employee to park. That’s real. It’s not phony. It’s an equity issue,” he said, pointing to free parking lots for downstate employees.

Legislators did allow the court to increase some filing fees this past year, raising $1.2 million. But Strine says that’s not a sustainable way to run the court system.

“We are a little concerned about making sure that the judiciary does not become too much of a toll road.”

Last year, Gov. Jack Markell (D) didn't include some of Strine's priorities in his recommended budget, leading to the chief justice to say, " makes the Bar, litigants and industries dependent on our courts question whether the judiciary's crucial role in the state is genuinely valued, or if the laudatory comments made about our judiciary is mere lip service."

Markell will unveil his proposed budget in January, with the Joint Finance Committee conducting hearings in early spring.

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