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Township Eyes Expansion of Crowded Courthouse

Capacity to seat 60, but 75 to 150 cases heard each night court

Toms River's Municipal Court is standing-room only.

Officials said overcrowding has become a huge problem at the Municipal Court on Oak Avenue in Toms River. People hoping to plead down traffic tickets wait in long, slow-moving lines just to get into the courtroom, and once there often find themselves standing against the back or side walls as they wait to see the judge.

Those with claims may get some relief soon, however. Township officials have been working on plans for a $2.6 million construction project to expand the courthouse.

Although there are 60 seats inside the court room, a court session will try to facilitate as many as 150 defendants as the court addresses summonses, traffic violations and a variety of criminal charges.

A typical session at the Municipal Court sees anywhere from 75 to 150 people and the current courtroom simply does not have enough room to contain them all, officials said. Court administrator Joanna Flanagan called the amount of people in such a small space "overwhelming" and said the overcrowding is a "safety issue."

On a typical Thursday night, Flanagan said, "the line to speak to the prosecutor is out the door."

Flanagan, who originally went to the mayor's office with the issue of overcrowding, said the township has been "fantastic" in responding to the request for more space.

Township Administrator Paul Shives said plans for the expansion are in "the final design stage" and are moving forward smoothly. The township applied for a CAFRA grant from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection a month ago, and those grants typically take 90 to 100 days to be processed.

Shives said he hopes that the project will be out to bid by October 1 and that construction will begin soon after. The construction should take about nine months to complete.

Shives said the overcrowding was strictly a problem of a lack of space and a shortage of seats and that no staff additions were necessary.

Current plans call for a 1500-square-foot addition that would redesign the courtroom and reception area. The expansion would add 140 seats to a courtroom which currently has only 60.

Court administrator Flanagan said that addressing the overcrowding was so important because it is at the municipal level that most people's interaction with the court system takes place.

The Municipal Court handles traffic violations, citizen complaints and disagreements, citizen against citizen complaints, and officer-issued complaints. The majority of cases are traffic-related and that session takes place on Thursday nights. The court clerk's office is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and court sessions take place on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

The courthouse is part of a municipal justice complex that also includes police headquarters. In addition to the explansion of the court portion, concurrent plans to put an to replace a smaller facility off-site are in the works.

. July 18, 2011 at 08:10 PM
Leave the courthouse as is. Maybe these traffic violaters will think twice about breaking the laws of the roads if they have to go there.
JustMe July 18, 2011 at 09:23 PM
This article is very misleading to the public. I hardly think there was or is ever 150 ppl on a court calendar in one sitting and court very rarely lasts an entire day. A big reason for so many people, is that everyone brings a "friend" or family member. Toms River needs to do more house cleaning on the "honesty and Integrity" issue than just in the school system!!!!!
Mike L July 19, 2011 at 02:16 PM
You got to be kidding.!!!!...Just put up signs, like "Only those involved, ENTER....This would solve the problem and not a lot of money involved. It could be made by our Building and Grounds personnel. I think that idea of expanding the court was only to incorporate it with the Unpopular use of the 2.6 million dollars for the Animal Shelter on the police properties. Did anyone read the whole article, see the last paragraph????
Mary Chase July 19, 2011 at 02:41 PM
At least the animals deserve a nice comfortable space more than the lawbreakers do...
Greg July 19, 2011 at 03:35 PM
maybe the new court room will have a bar and the participants can buy drinks. This will help subsidies the new construction. Have the police wait outside and issue tickets for DWI. ( More $ for the new court room. :) Problem solved. :)

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