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Call for more courts

The borough needs more community courts.

So says Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, who announced recently that he would gladly assign his people to any court that opens its doors.

In other words, build it and an ADA will come to prosecute.

“If any community has the resources to open a community court, I will stock it with the same resources that I have right now in Red Hook,” said Hynes, referring to the Red Hook Community Justice Center, which opened in 2000.

The Red Hook Community Justice Center, located on Visitation Place, has been hailed as the nation’s first multi-jurisdictional community court that handles civil, criminal and family court cases.

While the Community Justice Center has some similarities to the special sessions or magistrates courts that could be found peppered throughout the borough in the 1940s and 1950s, the court also provides social services, community restitution projects, on-site educational workshops and GED programs.

“All of the programs are rigorously monitored to ensure accountability and drive home notions of individual responsibility,” according to the website at www.courtinnovation.org.

During a meeting with a group of law students from the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s, Hynes said that he jumped at the chance to open a community court when the idea was posed by Chief Justice Judith Kaye.

“When she asked me what we would need, I told her all I would need is a judge, two flags and a desk,” said Hynes, who explained that one of his first glimpse at the justice system came at visiting a community court in East Flatbush.

“When I was about 15, I walked over to Snyder Avenue and up to this red brick building called special sessions,” he said. “When I went inside, I saw two white guys in suits screaming at each other. It turned out they were lawyers. That was my first experience in a trial room and I never forgot it.”

Hynes said that about 40 years ago, someone on high decided to centralize all of the borough’s courts to one location.

Yet some of those city-owned buildings where magistrate’s court and special sessions were held remain.

“The shells of these old buildings are all over the city,” he said. “It wouldn’t take a hell of a lot to re-open them.”

While he said that “every major community should have a community court,” Hynes would not elaborate on which neighborhood should get the next courthouse.

“That’s a priority I can’t set,” he said. “But the people we represent ought to be able to see justice in action.”

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