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July 07, 2010

Chancellor Scott F. Cooper Urges Family Court Building Project to Proceed Without Delay

Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Scott F. Cooper on July 7 urged that construction proceed immediately on the new Family Court building project. Citing that there is "presently no issue of justice more pressing to Philadelphians," he strongly disagreed with those who call for cessation of the project.

Each year, tens of thousands of people bring their family crises to the Court’s Domestic Relations Division. Cooper said that the Division cannot continue to adequately serve the needs of Philadelphians in its current condition and location.

“If we lose the hard-earned momentum now, the future of this critical project is very much in doubt,” Cooper said. “Time is not on our side."

Continuing, the Chancellor pointed out that "as an association of nearly 13,000 lawyers, we believe in a full and fair process concerning the funding of this project. But, on behalf of the citizens of this city, we cannot delay the building of a Family Court any longer."

"Our system of justice requires that a full and fair inquiry be made into the funding and that all sides are heard. That may not happen as fast as some would like. But until it is completed, and unless there are explicit findings of wrongdoing, Chief Justice Castille should keep his position and the project should move forward," Cooper said.

“We do not know where the facts will ultimately land,” Cooper added. "But what we know for certain is that bringing a newly constructed, desperately needed Family Court building to 15th and Arch streets is critical to the citizens of Philadelphia. Indeed, our institutions of justice require it. Family members should not have to cower in fear that the person who domestically abused them may sit across the waiting room because the current court has insufficient space.”

For seven years, the Philadelphia Bar Association has closely examined the need for a unified Family Court building.

In 2003, the Association’s Board of Governors unanimously adopted a resolution aimed at improving the delivery of justice in the Domestic Relations Division of Family Court.

The resolution expressed support for increased public accountability about funding and resources allocation in the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania. It also supported increased funding, personnel and resources; the provision of assistance and information for pro se litigants; improved facilities, security, scheduling and timeliness; and the fulfillment of the constitutional mandate of open court.

Since that time, the Association, through its Family Law Section, has worked continuously with Court leadership to advance the effort. An Ad Hoc Family Law Construction Committee of the 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 to create a blueprint to help advance and ensure the ultimate success of the project.

“The Philadelphia Bar Association remains dedicated to moving this effort decisively and deliberately forward,” Cooper said. “This new facility must be up, running and serving Philadelphia families. We will keep pressing to make it happen.”

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