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AP: Feds consider closing Salisbury court site

The U.S. magistrate judge’s chambers at the Maude R. Toulson Federal Building in Salisbury is among the 10 court sites most likely to face closure as the federal government looks for ways to cut costs, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents show 60 court sites across in 29 states could be on the chopping block. Many of the sites are in small, rural communities and critics say closing them could make it more difficult for people to get to court proceedings.

There are 674 federal courthouses and facilities around the country, according to David Sellers, a federal courts spokesman. The 60 sites being considered for closure do not have a resident judge. Instead, judges based in larger cities travel to these smaller locations as needed.

In Salisbury, solo practitioner Charles Bruce Anderson is slated to succeed Victor Laws III as part-time magistrate judge this month. Laws’ retirement took effect Wednesday. Neither Anderson nor Laws returned calls for comment on Thursday.

In the documents obtained by the AP, the courthouse facilities that could close were ranked based on a variety of categories including cost, usage and location. Of the 10 facilities that seem most likely to be eyed for closure, two are in Arkansas, two are in South Carolina, and the rest are spread out between West Virginia, North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, and Georgia. A facility in Beaufort, S.C., tops the list, followed by the federal court site in Parkersburg, W.V. and one in Harrison, Ark.

“The federal judiciary is going through an aggressive cost containment effort because the money Congress has provided for the operating expenses for the courts has been essentially frozen the last three years,” Sellers said in an email.

He said a significant portion of those funds are used to pay rent for federal court facilities and pointed out that the court system is at the beginning of the process of reviewing which courthouse facilities could close.

A committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policy-making body for the federal courts, in February asked the 13 circuit judicial councils to review the list and recommend whether to keep the courts without resident judges, Sellers said. They’re supposed to get back to the committee by mid-April.

The committee will then review the recommendations and forward its report to the Judicial Conference, which could decide whether to close any of the court sites at its September meeting, Sellers said.

He said it’s too early to speculate how much could be saved or how many jobs could be lost by the possible closures.

“It would depend on what, if any, facilities are closed, when the closure would occur, the rent on the particular facility, staff located at the facility, other needs in the circuit, as well as many other factors that vary from facility to facility,” Sellers said.

Daily Record legal affairs writer Steve Lash contributed to this report.