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Benchmarks: Journal of the New York State Unified Court System

New York State’s Largest
Courthouse Opens in Brooklyn

BY ANITA WOMACK-WEIDNER

New York state’s largest and most technologically advanced courthouse — the Brooklyn Supreme and Family Courthouse — opened in July.

Just blocks from the Brooklyn Bridge, the new courthouse at 330 Jay St. stands 473 feet tall with 32 stories and 1.1 million-square feet of space. The courthouse, which houses Kings County Supreme Court Criminal Term and Kings County Family Court as well as more than a dozen city agencies and five floors of undeveloped commercial space, has more square footage and courtrooms than any other in the state.  
Brooklyn Supreme and Family Courthouse
Brooklyn Supreme and Family
Courthouse

The facade of the $670 million building combines brick, green glass and stone into a modern building with traditional elements that blend with existing Brooklyn architecture. The two courts occupy 25 of the 32 stories. Criminal Term has 50 courtrooms, having relocated from two sites, 360 Adams St. and 120 Schermerhorn St. There is a 750- person jury assembly room where potential jurors can comfortably wait while surfing the Internet or watching cable news (see technology story, page 2); a 300- person detention facility, where prisoners are brought in through an underground tunnel; and an internal cell block that holds 250 prisoners, reducing the number of bus trips made by the Department of Correction. Separate elevators for judges of both courts take them from underground parking to their chambers and courtrooms.

“It’s clean and impressive,” said Administrative Judge for the 2nd Judicial District Neil Firetog. “That’s what you want. You want to have a place that you feel the majesty. When you come into the building you feel that you are going to receive justice here. I can see the effect it has on everyone — litigants, staff, judges and lawyers.”

Family Court, with 34 court and hearing rooms, relocated from 283 Adams St. A number of victims’ services and children’s agencies that typically are involved in court proceedings have office space in the new building as well.

Kings and Richmond Counties’ Family Court Supervising Judge Jane Pearl said the new facility “raises the dignity” of both litigants and attorneys, especially the selfrepresented. “It also raises the morale of the judicial and nonjudicial personnel who serve the public,” she said. “It communicates that family and children and safety are important issues.” New technology, such as the option of taking a child’s testimony by telephonic appearance or closed-circuit television, helps to communicate that message, Judge Pearl added.

There are three separate entrances and lobbies, one each for Family Court and Supreme Court and a third for commercial office space. The public cannot go from one court to another without exiting the building and using the proper entrance. The entrances to both courts are on the northeast corner of the building.

Entrances to each courthouse
Entrances to each courthouse

Building such a large, combined- use facility in downtown Brooklyn meant considering factors not ordinarily involved in courthouse design (see interview with architect, page 2), as well as community issues such as pedestrian and vehicular traffic, parking, security and the density of high-rise buildings in the area.

Unlike most courthouses, which are built as public works by local government or through the New York State Dormitory Authority, the new courthouse was built through a unique public-private partnership between the city and private developer Forest City Ratner. By statute, local governments are obligated to provide court facilities, and the city of New York established the Jay Street Development Corporation to develop and finance this project. The building was actually built as a commercial “condominium,” with the city originally leasing, then exercising its option to buy, the court portion.

The Schermerhorn facility will be renovated and used exclusively for Criminal Court, while 360 Adams St. will house all of Supreme Court Civil Term. The Department of Education will temporarily be housed at 283 Adams St.

The official ribbon-cutting for the new courthouse will be held this fall.

Fall 2005PDF Format
HTML:
Largest NY Courthouse Opens Court Security Task Force Report Appeals Court Upholds Camera Ban Jay Street Architect Technology at Jay Street Courthouse Court Construction Update Mohawk Tribe Votes on Family Court Parent Education Advisory Board IDV Courts Court Interpreters Judicial Campaign Ethics Center Historic Courthouses: Ontario County Did You Know? NY Judicial Institute Calendar Judicial Institute Receives Award UCS Establishes Katrina Fund

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Web page updated: September 1, 2006 - www.NYCOURTS.gov