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With Justice Sandra Schultz Newman’s retirement from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Philadelphia stands to lose more than just a good, experienced jurist. As the long-time court liaison to Philadelphia and with her own deep commitment to improving the experiences of those who find themselves engaged in family-related court proceedings, Newman has become a champion for those seeking to improve the Philadelphia Family Court system. Her efforts have been welcome to what is often a neglected – but critical – area of our legal system. After all, Family Court is where life-altering decisions about custody, child welfare and the future of families are made. Recent events have demonstrated how a failure to invest the necessary funds and pay adequate attention to these issues can have disastrous consequences. A key element of Newman’s efforts has been her work to obtain a new, unified Family Court facility for Philadelphia. Currently, the work of the Family Court is divided between two facilities – the Juvenile Division at 1801 Vine Street and the Domestic Relations Division at 34 South 11th Street. Both facilities are old and lacking in basic amenities. Moreover, because of space limitations and security concerns, courtrooms in the Domestic Relations Division are not open to the public, leading many to question and lose confidence in the process. Simply put, unifying the work of the Family Court would be more efficient, more effective and would expand access to justice for Philadelphia families. Of course, this will require substantial funding from the state court system, the county courts and the General Assembly. Newman has been working with government officials at the state and local levels to find a workable site that can house a new, modernized, accessible Family Court facility. These efforts are supported by many in the public interest community, family law practitioners, the Philadelphia Bar Association, and among the judges and personnel of Family Court. Several times potential sites have been identified only to be scuttled because of cost, other buyers, or logistical problems. Current efforts seem focused on the old Strawbridge’s space at the Gallery Mall, although nothing is certain and other sites still may be considered. Newman insists that her departure from the bench will not lessen her commitment to this effort, and those who have worked with her know that her passion and dedication to this work are unmatched. Court watchers know they will still be able to count on Newman as she returns to the private sector. However, in her new position as a private citizen, Newman will need strong partners to support the cause and zealously advocate for proper funding. A strong team working with Newman can have an enormous impact towards achieving a successful conclusion to this project. The judges and lawyers of Philadelphia must make it clear to the city and state officials that Philadelphia needs a new, modern, unified Family Court facility now. The families of Philadelphia who come to our courts at the most difficult times of their lives deserve no less. The judges and lawyers of Philadelphia owe them this. And we owe it to Newman to demonstrate that her leadership has not gone unnoticed and that her call for change will be heeded. Commentaries appearing from the Editorial Board are produced by The Legal Intelligencer’s Editorial Board. The opinions are voted on and passed by a majority of the members of the board. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of every member of the board, nor of the newspaper.

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