Magisterial district judge office moves in the works

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | January 25th, 2016 4:45 pm

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

WILKES-BARRE — Luzerne County soon plans to house both Wilkes-Barre magisterial district judges in the same building to save money.

The administration is negotiating a lease to move District Judge Thomas Malloy into a building at 100 Hazle St. occupied by District Judge Richard Cronauer. The building is owned by Freeman Realty Inc.

County officials publicly sought new leased space in July because Malloy’s North Empire Street office, which was occupied by Martin Kane until this year, is the most expensive among the county’s 16 magisterial districts. Owned by Bella Vista Associates Inc., the North Empire Street location costs the county more than $7,000 per month.

However, the administration is asking the county council to approve a lease extension to keep the North Empire location through the end of April because:

• A lease for the additional space at 100 Hazle St. has not been finalized.

• Renovations must be completed in the Hazle Street building.

• The county is awaiting required approval from the state Supreme Court to house the two magisterial districts together.

If the co-location is approved, both offices must maintain separate courtrooms and identities, though they can share support staff, county Court Administrator Michael Shucosky said.

County acting Manager C. David Pedri said he expects “significant savings” with the new lease but declined to discuss specifics due to pending negotiations.

The North Empire lease extension, slated for approval at Tuesday’s county council meeting, is necessary because the county had provided Bella Vista with a required six months’ notice of early termination on July 20.

Prior county commissioners had unanimously passed the 10-year lease with Bella Vista in 2008.

Bella Vista is willing to continue leasing the facility to the county through April 30 at the same monthly amount of $7,072, an agenda submission said.

The county also must pay a $15,773 early termination penalty for “restoration of the premises” as stipulated in the original lease. Bella Vista had been required to complete interior modifications at its own expense before the county occupied the property.

The county pays $3,187 per month to lease 3,350 square feet of space for Cronauer’s Hazle Street office, county records show.

About 5,000 square feet of space was requested for both Wilkes-Barre magisterial offices.

To obtain Supreme Court permission, the county must notify police, attorneys and other interested parties and hold a public hearing at the courthouse to obtain feedback, Shucosky said.

Shucosky supports the concept to save money and create a more convenient “judiciary center” in Wilkes-Barre, particularly for city police who must now visit two sites. The move would place Malloy’s office only about a third of a mile out of his district boundary, Shucosky said.

He expects Malloy’s office will be on the second floor at the new building, which is off Wilkes-Barre Boulevard.

The state will provide funding for wiring, computer equipment and security enhancements at the Hazle Street property, he said.

District Judge David Barilla also is expected to move from a tight 900-square-foot office in the Swoyersville Borough Building to renovated space in the county-owned Wyoming Valley Airport in Fort Fort by March 1, Shucosky said.

That relocation will save the county $12,000 annually and provide Barilla and his staff with more space, county officials said.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.