Norwich, Conn., courthouse law librarian Lori Sulmasy will spend a good deal of time over the next several weeks putting things in boxes. That includes periodicals and law books and such, 24,000 volumes in all, which will be sent to other libraries in the state.
That's because the law library at the courthouse on Main Street closed its doors for good on April 1. So did courthouse law libraries in Milford and Willimantic, all victims of the state budget crunch.
For months, everyone knew the day was coming. But that didn't make things any easier for those affected. "It is a sad day when a public law library closes its doors forever," said Sulmasy, who began her law librarian's career in Norwich in 1998. "It's like a family at the Norwich courthouse and I'll definitely miss being part of the team there."
In the near future, Sulmasy's job will require her to spend half her time at the Middletown law library and the other half closing up the Norwich library. The silver lining for her and other staffers at the affected libraries is their jobs weren't eliminated.
Chief Court Administrator Barbara Quinn said it was with "great regret" that the three law libraries were closed this week. Barring a near miracle, three more libraries -- in Hartford, Bridgeport and Litchfield -- will close in two months.
"We understand that this will be a hardship for members of the bar and for members of the public, particularly self-represented parties, who use these facilities on a daily basis," Quinn said.
Judicial Branch officials said they had no choice but to make difficult decisions after its budget was cut by nearly $13 million last fall. In addition to the libraries, three courthouses are slated to close later this year. The state will save an estimated $139,500 for the rest of the budget cycle by closing the Norwich law library and an additional $600,000 by closing the other five.
Lawmakers have tried to find additional funding for the Judicial Branch but so far have not drummed up enough support to override an anticipated veto by Rell. Additionally, petition drives by the Southern New England Law Librarians Association, the American Association of Law Libraries and local bar associations were not enough to stem the tide.
In Norwich, Sulmasy said some of the most popular materials included the Connecticut General Statutes and legal treatises on various subjects. Many people, especially pro se litigants, used a series of law books published by the Nolo company that are written in plain English and geared for legal novices. Other visitors did research on tax issues, bankruptcy law and Indian law, a popular topic given the two Native American-owned casinos in the eastern part of the state.
"The big misconception ... not everything is available electronically," said Sulmasy.
Sulmasy said library users ranged from the judges, public defenders and prosecutors stationed at the courthouse to private practice attorneys with nearby offices and members of the general public who are representing themselves in court.
"It was a very nice law library," Sulmasy said of Norwich. "I got lots of positive feedback from the people who used the law library. People were very upset and disappointed" when they learned it would close.
Norwich Superior Court Judge John D. Boland calls the closing of the law library "the first casualty" of state budget cuts, "and probably not the last."
He said he would often tell lawyers and others in his courtroom to look up a particular case pertinent to the matter at hand and they could go right downstairs to the courthouse library. "For now, I'm not sure what I'm going to do," he said.
As a judge, Boland said he can still access all the case law he needs on the computer. But he often used the library for law review articles and treatises. "That's when the library is essential," said Boland. "In the future, I'll have to find those texts in another place or go ahead without them."
In deciding which libraries to close, Judicial Branch officials looked at locations that weren't too far from other libraries. Sulmasy said the New London courthouse law library will get first dibs at any materials from Norwich.
She just hopes her former patrons can make the trip as well.
"For some people ... the elderly, people who represent themselves because they can't afford legal representation, that's difficult, especially if they rely on public transportation," Sulmasy said. "The unfortunate thing is closing a law library limits access to justice."