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January 04, 2010

Philadelphia City Council Supports Funding of Unified Family Court Building

Philadelphia City Council has adopted a Resolution calling on Governor Edward G. Rendell and Mayor Michael A. Nutter to support funding for a unified Family Court building. Click here to view the Resolution.

An Ad Hoc Family Law Construction Committee of the Philadelphia Bar Association featuring numerous stakeholders including representatives from the courts, the District Attorney's Office, the private bar, court reform advocates, architects, and others was established in early 2009 by Chancellor Sayde J. Ladov to create a blueprint to help advance and ensure the ultimate success of the project.

The lead sponsor of the Resolution, adopted by City Council on Dec. 17, was Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown.

"We applaud City Council for adopting this important resolution, which is a crucial step toward releasing critical funding for a unified Family Court headquarters," said Ladov. "We thank Councilwoman Reynolds Brown for her vision and leadership in advancing the effort to create a safe, modern and efficient facility that will benefit all Philadelphia citizens."

While many of the city's attorneys represent individuals in divorce, custody, domestic violence and other critical issues in Family Court, the overwhelming majority of matters involve self represented litigants who have no opportunity to speak to the public about their concerns. As the voice of 13,000 attorneys in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Bar Association can attest to the dire needs of these families, Ladov said.

The Bar Association and its ad hoc committee will continue to dedicate its resources to moving the project forward to ensure that city residents have unfettered access to justice in the Family Court system.

According to the Resolution, a combined Family Court building "will allow for a streamlined Family Court system, alleviating logistical issues for the courts and creating a more user-friendly system for patrons."

"The current locations for Family Court have served their purpose for a number of years but are now antiquated and the new combined Family Court can provide a level of safety and technological advancement that the citizens of this City deserve," the Resolution states.

The Association has long been on record in support of a new Family Court complex. The Family Law Section and Public Interest Section have worked with former Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Sandra Schultz Newman, who served as liaison to the First Judicial District and who was an important and compelling advocate on behalf of a new Family Court building, to identify the broad range of problems with the current facilities.

In July 2003, the Board of Governors unanimously endorsed the recommendations of a comprehensive report from the Women's Law Project finding that the Domestic Relations Division falls short of national court performance standards in a number of critical areas. The report recognized that the Division "cannot significantly improve its performance if maintained at the current inadequate level of economic support and personnel and in its current building."

The Board also adopted a resolution expressing support for increased public accountability about funding and resources allocation in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. In addition to supporting improved facilities, it called for increased funding, personnel and resources; the provision of assistance and information for pro se litigants; improved security, scheduling and timeliness; and the fulfillment of the constitutional mandate of an open court.
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