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Courthouse shuffles current tenants, adds new ones

MIDDLEBURY — The Frank Mahady Courthouse in Middlebury will be even busier than usual this week. No, officials aren’t anticipating a spike in legal cases; rather, they will be in the midst of a major reorganization of services within the 40,000-square-foot building.
The reorganization, among other things, will result in many client services being consolidated on the first floor of the courthouse. It will also result in two new, permanent tenants being welcomed to the second floor: The Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office, which currently rents office space in the Marble Works Business District; and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), which for the past several years has operated a mobile office at the building on a part-time basis.
Addison County Superior Court Clerk Jo LaMarche said the move will reach its apex on Thursday, July 14 and Friday, July 15.
“We will be open for business on those days, but we would prefer that people wait, if they can,” she said of the short-term upheaval that should ultimately result in long-term benefits in customer service.
This week’s reorganization is in line with some substantial administrative changes to Vermont’s court system since last summer, when Superior, Family, District and Environmental courts were classified as separate divisions of a newly created “unified Vermont Superior Court.” This required, among other things, that staff receive training to field customer inquiries across all four court divisions, or at least be able to refer clients to the appropriate official.
The aim was to make the courts more customer-friendly, providing more one-stop shopping.
To that end, this week’s reorganization will result in eight customer stations on the first floor of the building, where the District Court and Family Court administrative offices are currently located. Those stations will be staffed by workers able to field questions and conduct business for all four of the court divisions — Probate, Civil, Criminal and Family.
“(Our staff) will be able to wait on anybody,” LaMarche said, explaining that customers previously had to go to separate areas of the building depending on the business they had to transact.
Here are some of the major changes people will notice at the courthouse once the moving is completed late this week, according to LaMarche:
• The Probate Court offices and hearing room will move downstairs to the former magistrate and Traffic Court hearing room. The Probate Court’s spot is tentatively slated to be taken over by the DMV.
• Additional space freed up on the second floor will accommodate the State’s Attorney’s Office later this year. This will, for the first time, place the prosecutor’s office in the courthouse. LaMarche said walls will be put up to provide an enclosed office area for the county prosecutor and his staff.
Addison County State’s Attorney David Fenster said he’s pleased his office will be moving to the Courthouse. The new digs will give Fenster and his staff more convenient and timely access to court proceedings and will make it easier to haul documents to the courtroom.
“It is going to make the administration of our jobs a lot easier,” Fenster said.
• A much busier second-floor courtroom. That courtroom, to date, had been relegated to use on just one day per week, when a second, part-time judge has been in town, noted LaMarche. But the recording system for that courtroom has been upgraded to a point where it can now also be put into service for magistrate hearings on family disputes; traffic court; and small claims cases.
• Relocation of the law clerk and court administrators’ offices from the second to the first floor.
The courthouse will also welcome some new faces in the near future.
Judge Nancy Corsones will soon be rotating to Rutland County Family Court. She will be replaced by Judge Helen Toor, who has previously served on the bench in Addison County.
LaMarche said she hopes to soon learn who will replace part-time Judge Robert Mello, who is moving on to Franklin/Grand Isle Criminal Court.
Working through the reorganization will be a bigger challenge, given the fact that courthouse staffing is currently down two full-time positions. There are now 7.5 staffers wading through the considerable workload.
“Tensions are high right now,” LaMarche said.
“It is a busy court.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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