Cynicism about courthouse project
Greenwich Time

The Connecticut Department of Public Works' explanation of construction delays at the state Superior Court complex has them laughing in Stamford. But we don't expect state authorities to get the joke.

The courthouse was supposed to be completed by April 1, in time to accommodate the Martha Moxley murder trial. Jury selection is scheduled to begin April 2 in the closely followed trial of accused killer Michael Skakel. But judicial officials moved the proceedings to Norwalk late last month after learning that the Stamford courthouse was behind schedule. "There isn't anything special," spokesman Pat Nolan of the Connecticut DPW said when asked about the delay. "We were overly optimistic by several weeks."

Stamford knows the feeling. It has been "overly optimistic" for more than two decades about a new courthouse to handle one of the busiest judicial districts in Connecticut.

As far back as 1986, state officials were promising that a new courthouse would be built. New facilities were badly needed then, and the situation -- leaks, falling ceilings and space shortages that attorneys say hampers their ability to confer with clients -- only has gotten worse. The justice system literally has ground to a halt at the current courthouse on many occasions.

Ground wasn't broken until 1994, when a $51 million price tag and December 1997 completion date were envisioned. More than four years after that timetable was blown sky-high, costs have increased to $93 million.

The latest target date is May 1. "There's a lot of pressure to get the building done on time, and I'm going to get the thing done," said Don Ouillette, project manager with the DPW. We wish Mr. Ouillette luck and hope he will be the one to finally deliver. But we can't help as if we are being offered a great deal on Enron stock. Even the warmest, driest winter on record apparently hasn't helped this construction schedule. Once work is completed, Rhonda Stearly-Herbert, spokeswoman for the state Judicial Department, says it will take another two months for staff to move furniture and records into the building.

It's not that Stamford was looking forward to the Skakel trial. Mayor Dannel Malloy says the city can do without the traffic and media that the high-profile case will attract. Now, those headaches are moving up the line to Norwalk's courthouse on Belden Avenue, where Mayor Alex Knopp and his staff are working with the state on parking, security and other logistics. The courthouse's main courtroom is being renovated to accommodate the trial.

It's just that there is a perverse symmetry between the Skakel case and the Stamford courthouse. They seem to deserve each other. Talk of progress at the courthouse routinely is greeted with cynicism. So it has been with the Moxley murder case. Mr. Skakel was 15 in 1975, when he is accused of beating his Greenwich neighbor Martha Moxley to death with a golf club. It took more than 25 years to bring the case to trial. Many people believe the mystery of who killed Martha Moxley never will be solved.

The two tortoises could have lumbered on together, but it is not to be.

Correction An editorial in Thursday's Advocate incorrectly indicated which state agency is responsible for operating the Connecticut Valley Hospital. That facility is under the purview of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Copyright (c) 2002, Southern Connecticut Newspapers, Inc.

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