“There is a certain dignity that our courts have to have if we want the public to respect the law,” Jonathan Lippman, New York’s chief administrative judge, told Newsday in 2001, referring to the family court as a place in need of improvement. “And courts that are not adequately maintained may become a danger to the public.”
More than two decades later, the people of Nassau are still waiting for the structure needed to honor the proceedings within this majestic place. As Newsday’s Scott Edler reported recently, efforts to build a new family and matrimonial court “are years behind schedule, mired in steep costs and legal disputes with contractors.”
There are a myriad of problems with the Mineola building under construction, which will replace the existing old home of the Family Court in Westbury. In lawsuits, Nassau is battling architects and builders over design flaws and millions in unpaid bills. Contractors had to repair defective materials and charge the county extra for unexpected electrical work.
The projected cost of renovating the former county social services building has increased from $100 million in 2005, to $168 million in 2013, and then to $214.6 million by 2020, as costs continue to mount. Its completion was at least four years behind schedule. Originally scheduled to open in 2021, the commissioner of the Ministry of Public Works recently told lawmakers that the doors wouldn’t open until 2025.
Why is this building, like so many other public works projects in New York, taking so long to finish, with its ever-rising price tag? Why didn’t the county, from the outset, demolish the old social services building and start over, instead of claiming it could save money by reusing the old building’s structure and trying to renovate it?
But our concerns here are about more than just money and construction lawsuits.
For decades, judges, solicitors and people who rely on the Family Court to deliver justice in Westbury have faced overcrowded conditions. Too often, in extremely hot and cramped rooms and corridors, the highly sensitive conversations between lawyers and litigants take place without any sense of privacy.
The potentially volatile matters discussed in family court touch on some of the complex and deeply personal aspects of life. Judges are required to make prudent decisions such as the Solomon Decisions on matters of adoption, child custody and visitation between divorced parents, court-ordered support for children and ex-spouses, paternity, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and children accused of crimes as minors.
These failures and the accelerated completion timeline must be addressed by Nassau County Executive Director Bruce Blackman, who was elected two years ago on the promise of professionalism. He called these delays “unacceptable”, as it is clear to anyone. Blakeman is not responsible for these decades-long delays, But now he must take on the responsibility of getting the job done.
Editorial board members They are experienced journalists who provide reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our society.