SNELLA and AALL Celebrate Passage of Bill to Save Connecticut’s Courthouse Law Libraries

On Wednesday, May 5, the last day of the 2010 Connecticut Legislative Session, the General Assembly passed a budget bill for the new fiscal year that includes adequate funding for the Judicial Branch to ensure that the Bridgeport, Hartford and Litchfield courthouse law libraries will remain open. Pending lease renegotiations with the owner of the Willimantic Juvenile Courthouse, the Willimantic courthouse law library may also continue operations. Unfortunately, the Milford and Norwich law libraries, which closed on April 1, will not reopen.

The fight to save Connecticut’s courthouse law libraries began last fall when Governor Jodi M. Rell cut a stunning $12.9 million from the Judicial Branch’s budget. In November 2009, Chief Court Administrator Judge Barbara M. Quinn testified before the Joint Committee on Appropriations that she would be forced to close six of the state’s sixteen courthouse law libraries unless $7.8 million was restored to the Judicial Branch’s budget. In response to the threat of these closures, the Southern New England Law Librarians Association (SNELLA) and AALL worked together for months to ensure that adequate funding was restored to the Judicial Branch’s budget to keep the law libraries open.

This victory for users of the Bridgeport, Hartford and Litchfield courthouse law libraries would not have been possible without the many law librarians and allies in the state who spoke up in opposition to the closures. In January 2010, AALL and SNELLA posted five online petitions to save the libraries in Bridgeport, Hartford, Litchfield, Milford, and Norwich. The petitions included compelling quotes from local bar association leaders that illustrated the impact the closures would have on their communities. Thanks to everyone who signed the petitions or forwarded them to friends and colleagues, we gathered approximately 1,140 signatures in a little over a month and delivered the petitions to the Joint Appropriations and Judiciary Committees. We are very grateful for the support and help of the local bar associations and the Connecticut Bar Association.

On February 9, SNELLA President Nancy Marcove and retired courthouse law librarian Jonathan Stock testified before the Appropriations Committee to oppose the proposed closures. On February 26, Jonathan again presented testimony on behalf of SNELLA before the Joint Committee on the Judiciary in support of a bill that would have restored funding to the Judicial Branch (House Bill 5148). Camilla Tubbs, Chair of the AALL Government Relations Committee and Reference Librarian and Lecturer in Legal Research at Yale Law School’s Lillian Goldman Library, also presented testimony to the committee on behalf of AALL. Their statements  emphasized the importance of keeping these law libraries open so that attorneys, judges and members of the public can access the up-to-date legal materials they need.

In addition to providing adequate funding to keep the law libraries open, the new budget bill gives more authority to the Legislature over the process by which the Judicial Branch’s budget is adopted. Specifically, it provides the Legislature with an opportunity to see the Judicial Branch’s budget recommendations by requiring that the proposed budget be included in the Governor’s budget. It also gives the Legislature the ability to reject budget cuts made by the Executive Branch to the Judicial Branch’s budget after it is adopted.

For more information about our successful fight to save the Bridgeport, Hartford and Litchfield courthouse law libraries, please see our new Case Study.

[Posted by Emily Feldman]

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