Mayor Foster questions Pinellas court changes
Clerk of Circuit Court Ken Burke drew the first blood this week on Pinellas County's plans to move traffic and family law court to only the mid-Pinellas location, instead of St. Petersburg and Clearwater locations.
But St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster has qualms too, telling the City Council and later a reporter taht the proposal by County Administrator Bob LaSala and Chief Judge Thomas McGrady raises the specter of the courts pulling out of his city. The county's plan includes selling the 501 Building in downtown St. Pete, though the judicial tower next door would continue operating.
"I honestly think that’s a start. If you get rid of family law, and you have just a few judges remaining, then it’s self-fulfilling prophesy," Foster said, after telling comparing the county's efforts to peeling back an onion a layer at a time -- eventually leaving a hole downtown.
Foster said he expressed his concerns to McGrady, and he still wants to gather facts. But he suggested the council be prepared to offer its own opposition within a few weeks.
However, LaSala said there's no evidence to support that conclusion, nor space at the 49th Street judicial complex where traffic and family law courts would move.
"I can't see how that would happen. I don't think we have space at 49th Street and I don't see that as something we would want," LaSala said.
The county's proposal, which has not been approved, would be part of a consolidation of courts at the 49th Street judicial complex. While LaSala's staff claims it would save money, Burke and some lawyers have said moving family court is misguided and actually makes running that court section tougher.
Foster's general concerns has been somewhat echoed by County Commissioner Ken Welch, who warned against reducing the county's presence in downtown St. Petersburg.