Monday, November 9 will be the last day to conduct business at the Rockford office of 63rd District Court. The court is closing its doors to move operations to the new court house at 1950 East Beltline beginning Monday, November 6.
“This is a really bad economy to throw around eight million dollars,” said Judge Steve Servaas, who has fought the move.
He said there is no need for the new building, and no need to close the Rockford Court before a decision on a lawsuit from the City of Rockford to keep the court.
Rockford is suing Judge Sara Smolenski and Kent County over moving the court and believe law says that a court presence must remain in Rockford. A judge agreed with this but failed to define what a court presence consists of. The case now awaits answer from the Michigan Court of Appeals.
“This case is still live. It could go either way. Theoretically and practically the county could lose it,” Servaas said. “They’ve spent eight million on a new building and not waited to see what the outcome would be.
“Why are they doing all this stuff? There is no circumstance that I am aware of that would say the county has got to spend this money right now.”
“It’s a head scratcher, that’s the best way I can characterize it,” said Rockford City Manager Michael Young. Young said this move falls squarely on Judge Sara Smolenski’s shoulders. “She’s the one who said ‘I decide where the court shall sit.’ We said no,” Young said. He pointed out that the suit the City filed to keep the court was against Smolenski alone, and Kent County intervened and joined the suit on Smolenski’s side.
“It was a deliberate decision to support our chief judge,” said Kent County Administrator Daryl Delabbio, when asked why the county joined the suit.
He also defended the decision to build the new courthouse and pointed out it was the Kent County Board of Commissioners who made that decision. “Kent County builds for the long term,” he said. He said there will be efficiencies in having a consolidated courthouse.
“I know Rockford disputes that. We take the long view approach,” Delabbio said. Delabbio said the existing Rockford court will have a part time magistrate for some functions, but exactly what is up to Judge Smolenski. He said a small portion of the building will be remodelled and open at some future date one day and two half days a week.
Servaas pointed out that residents vote in county commissioners. “Ask the county commissioners for some explanation of why,” he said.
“My position has always been its a bad decision. This kind of money should not be spent in this time. The court is perfectly suited for the foreseeable future. The state is in such a bad financial shape, there was no reason to spend eight million of taxpayers dollars on a building that was not necessary at this time.” He also said there is no reason to move Rockford before the issue is settled.
Young said he expects a decision by the appeals court possibly even this week. “It was an expedited
hearing.” He said Rockford has asked the county to leave the court here until a resolution is decided.
“It falls on deaf ears,” he said. He said it isn’t illegal to move the court before a decision is reached. “There isn’t an injunction against it. I don’t know that it is common sense.”
The court has been operating in Rockford for decades with the current courthouse in place since 1968. It was built along with City Hall on a former residential block. According to Servaas, the Rockford courthouse cost $250,000 to build. He has been working there since he began in 1972.
“I’m not happy at all. I’ve been here a long time and I love the place. That’s personal,” Servaas said. “Now people from northern Kent County are going to have to drive to the new courthouse for anything significant—for no good reason.”