by Patrick J. Cronin
Hampton Union, Friday, December 17, 2004
HAMPTON - Saying that the Hampton and Exeter district courts are unsafe and causing health problems for employees, the state Court Accreditation Committee voted Thursday to move the personnel of the two courts to temporary locations.
At a meeting of area court and community officials in the Hampton courthouse, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick said he visited numerous court facilities in the last few months and what he saw in Hampton and Exeter was very disturbing.
In Hampton, court employees, including Judge Francis Frasier, have been complaining about flea bites.
The century-old building is not handicapped accessible and the fire escape is not up to code.
Employees also have been complaining that they are getting sick and that there is mold growing in the basement. Animals are also living in the basement.
In Exeter, several employees have been complaining about headaches and nausea. When they take a vacation or time off, they say their symptoms clear up.
A recent test showed there was above normal readings of carbon monoxide in the building.
After hearing the problems with the two courthouses, the committee voted to temporarily move the operations of Exeter District Court to Rockingham County Superior Court in Brentwood within two to three weeks.
They also voted to look for a temporary location to move the Hampton District Court personnel, a move that had already been in the works. Hampton has offered several locations for a temporary courthouse, but one state official said none of them are really viable.
Broderick said one of the main problems with the Hampton District Court is that its not handicapped accessible and that the state can be held liable for not being in conformance with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"The clerk of the Hampton District Court, John Clark, was telling me about a person who was in a wheelchair outside trying to get the attention of the employees," said Broderick. "He was throwing pebbles up to the window to let them know that he was there for his court appearance. That is unacceptable."
Exeter District Court Judge Laurence Cullen said the building is making the staff sick.
"Each member of our staff has reported an illness," said Cullen. "We can't identify what is causing it. There is an abnormal amount of carbon monoxide in that building. There is probably something else there that we don't know about. One of our staff members is on the verge of quitting and frankly I don't want to see her go."
Broderick said these solutions are only temporary and they need to start thinking about a permanent solution.
The temporary locations are expected to be used until a new site is chosen where a consolidated courthouse, combining the Hampton and Exeter courts will be constructed.
Plans are for the new courthouse to be constructed somewhere within the communities it serves.
Those plans are on hold because several local officials don't want to see the Hampton and Exeter courts combined.
Sen. Russell Prescott, R-Kingston, sponsored an amendment that temporarily prevented consolidation of the Exeter and Hampton district courts.
The amendment only bought them time to decide on what they want to do.
Broderick said their hasn't been any movement and the communities need to start thinking about it.
One thing made clear at Thursday's meeting is that area police chiefs still want to see the courthouses remain separate.
Town Manager James Barringtion said the town has already offered the state land to construct a courthouse.
Seabrook Town Manager Fred Welch has also offered the state 100 acres of land off Route 107 to construct a courthouse.
Seabrook is also offering a site for a temporary location to house the court.
Welch said they have several sites in mind for a temporary location.
Several local officials in the area came to the meeting including state representatives and several members of the Executive Council.
Broderick said he plans to hold another meeting in two months to see what progress has been made to find a permanent solution.