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By Curt Brown
Standard-Times staff writer
July 16, 2008 6:00 AM

NEW BEDFORD - For nearly 180 years, the Superior Courthouse has been the site of many of Bristol County's high-profile criminal cases, including the infamous Lizzie Borden trial.
But in late 2009 or early 2010, that will all change when Superior Court criminal business moves to a new
$70 million courthouse in downtown Fall River.
Joan Kinney, public information officer for the state Supreme Judicial Court, confirmed Tuesday that the court's criminal cases will be moved from the historic courthouse on County Street to a building being constructed at the site of a former indoor mall on South Main Street in Fall River.
Ms. Kinney said the change is being made for security reasons. The court facilities in New Bedford are outdated, and the new courthouse will have "state-of-the-art holding cells and security systems," she said.
New Bedford Superior Court, located next to the Rodrigues School Administration Building, will be used by the court for civil business, she said. No changes are planned for New Bedford District Court on Sixth Street.
Superior Court in Fall River, the Gothic-style North Main Street building currently used for civil business there, will be closed, Ms. Kinney said.
As in all county courthouses, the new building in Fall River will include offices for the Bristol County district attorney's prosecutors.
District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter plans to keep "the lion's share" of his 80-plus employees housed at their offices in the Times Square Building on Purchase Street in New Bedford, according to spokesman Gregg Miliote.
"There will be no wholesale exodus to Fall River," Mr. Miliote said.
The district attorney will have 12 to 14 offices in the new courthouse, and about 25 employees will be based there.
How the relocation of the criminal court might affect New Bedford's downtown area remains to be seen. Information about the number of employees in the criminal court was not immediately available. However, the city hosts numerous lawyers' offices and many of the downtown restaurants and coffee shops are frequented by attorneys, their clients, witnesses and jurors.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said Tuesday that given a choice between the county's civil business or criminal business, he would choose the civil side.
"I don't have a problem at all with a civil session in New Bedford," the mayor said. "I don't think that's a bad thing for New Bedford at all.
"We have had the criminal cases for many, many years in New Bedford. I think it will be a nice change."
Mayor Lang handled criminal cases as a prosecutor in New Bedford Superior Court and handled civil cases as a private attorney in Fall River Superior Court.
He acknowledged it will be a change for the famous courthouse, the site of the 1893 trial of Lizzie Borden, who was acquitted in the hatchet murders of her father and stepmother.
A century later, in the same court, notorious ex-priest James Porter pleaded guilty to 41 counts of sexually abusing 28 children and was sentenced to 18 to 20 years; he died of cancer in 2005.
Even without the criminal cases, Mayor Lang said he believes "there will be similar (court) traffic regardless."
"You know, a full-blown civil session is a very busy docket. We still have a busy district court and probate court."
Mayor Lang pointed out that the Registry of Motor Vehicles will open an office in a former bank building on Union Street later this summer, which will bring more people downtown.
Roy Nascimento, president of the New Bedford Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber, while concerned about the potential loss of professionals downtown, will wait and see.
"We will be very interested in getting more details to learn the true impact for New Bedford," he said.
Ms. Kinney said that in Fall River, district court business will be consolidated into the new building. The district courthouse at the corner of Rock and Bedford streets will revert to the county.
Currently, district court business there is split between the courthouse at Rock and Bedford streets and the Fall River Trial Court, site of the former BMC Durfee High School. The Fall River Trial Court will be used for Probate and Family Court, Juvenile Court and Housing Court.
Ms. Kinney said the new courthouse in Fall River will have nine courtrooms - three for use by Superior Court and six for use by district court - and will have 250 employees.
While on-site parking at the new court will be limited, public parking and public transportation will be nearby.
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