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Westport Police Call Court Cuts a 'Disaster'

WESTPORT, Conn. – A state plan to cut costs by moving all criminal cases as well as serious motor vehicle and housing hearings from Norwalk Superior Court to Stamford would hurt Westport more than any other department in the region, police officials said.

The plan would be a "disaster" for police departments and residents throughout the area who use the Norwalk courthouse – but would pose the biggest problem in Westport, Deputy Police Chief Dale Call said Tuesday.

"It's already no picnic transporting prisoners to Norwalk, but shifting it to Stamford would place a far bigger burden on our department," said Call. "Every day we have to bring prisoners or paperwork to court, and even now with the traffic on I-95 that takes a solid hour out of the day. We don't want to think about how long it would take to Stamford."

The Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District serves Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Weston, Westport and Wilton.

"Our department would be the farthest of all the towns that use the Norwalk court," Call said. "But it would also be a disaster for the judges, prosecutors, jurors and all the other people driving to court. If we have to transport prisoners to Stamford, it would take more of our officers out of service for much longer."

State officials say the plan could be implemented by September as one of 13 court closures and consolidations statewide under a $38.5 million cut to the Connecticut Judicial Branch. The cuts stem from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's recently revised budget to close a $1.6 billion budget shortfall. Call said he and Police Chief Al Fiore are still hoping state unions will make concessions to avoid the court closures.

Norwalk Police Chief Harry Rilling said the plan is "ridiculous."

"It would add to the massive traffic on I-95, and for Norwalk residents who don't have cars a simple bus ride would become an all-day excursion to get there and back by train and or bus," Rilling said.

State officials say they realize the plan would impact police departments and residents. But by the end of July, more than 450 layoff notices will be sent to court employees – including 10 in the state's attorney's offices in the Stamford-Norwalk Judicial District. Three of those are Norwalk Superior Court prosecutors, officials said.

What is your reaction to the planned move of most court cases from Norwalk Superior Court to Stamford? Let us know in a comment below.

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