Courts & Corrections

Judge Murtha to step down; federal courthouse in Brattleboro to close

Brattleboro federal court post office
The federal courthouse and post office in Brattleboro. Wikimedia Commons photo

BRATTLEBORO — The U.S. District Court in Brattleboro will close permanently on Sept. 29 as senior federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha goes on inactive status.

Murtha served as a U.S. District Court judge from 1995 to 2009 when he elected to take senior status on the bench. As a senior judge, Murtha was allowed to dictate the number of cases he would continue to hear.

Now Murtha, 76, will stop hearing all criminal and civil cases at the three-story brick courthouse on Main Street. He does plan to continue to serve on some court committees.

“Judge Murtha has been a wonderful judge and colleague,” chief federal Judge Christina Reiss told the Brattleboro Reformer on Wednesday. “He will stay active in committee work and other projects. We will, however, all miss having him sitting in Brattleboro.”

The move also allows the U.S. District Court system in Vermont help reduce the amount of rented space used for the federal judiciary. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Vermont, New York and Connecticut, has been asked to shrink the amount of space by 3 percent as part of a national reduction.

“In the spirit of cost containment and being good stewards of the public’s money, the Judicial Conference of the United States has directed each Circuit to reduce their space and facilities footprint,” said Court Clerk Jeff Eaton in Burlington. The 3 percent goal is by September 2018, the end of the fiscal year.

“In light of Judge Murtha’s transition to inactive status, and with the retirement of Brattleboro divisional office staff — it was decided that the Brattleboro divisional office would be Vermont’s contribution to the Second Circuit’s 3% reduction goal,” Eaton said.

He said the move eliminates a courtroom, chambers, including the former chambers for Judge James L. Oakes, who died in 2007, the clerk’s office, jury lounge and two conference rooms for lawyers.

Kristine Long, the judicial assistant for Murtha for the past 22 years, plans to retire on Sept. 29 too, he said.

Kathleen Korstange, the deputy court clerk assigned to Brattleboro, also will retire after 12 years, Eaton said.

About a half dozen court security officers, who screen people coming into the courthouse and monitor the courtroom, will no longer be needed in Brattleboro.

Criminal or civil cases still pending before Murtha are being transferred to others on the federal bench in Vermont: Judge Christina Reiss in Burlington, Judge Geoffrey Crawford in Rutland, and senior federal Judge William K. Sessions III in Burlington.

The U.S. Probation Office does plan to keep two officers in Brattleboro to monitor people on supervision, Chief Federal Probation Officer Joe McNamara said.

Federal judges, like Murtha, continue to draw their annual salary until they die.

President Bill Clinton appointed Murtha to the federal bench in 1995. He was elevated later that year to chief federal judge for a seven-year term. Judge Sessions replaced Murtha as the chief judge until 2010 when Reiss took over.

Murtha has been a member of the Second Circuit Judicial Council since his appointment. He also is a member of the Standing Committee on the Rules of Practice and Procedure of the Judicial Conference of the United States since 1999, chairing its Style Subcommittee.

His previous service includes as a member of the Vermont Judicial Nominating Board (1980-1986); chair of the Vermont Commission on Low-Level Nuclear Waste (1987-1990); and a member of the Vermont Professional Conduct Board (1993-1995).

Murtha arrived in Vermont in 1970 and became a deputy state’s attorney in Windham County under prosecutor M. Jerome Diamond. Murtha went into private practice in 1973 and remained there until his federal appointment.

Prior to entering law school, Judge Murtha was a Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia (1963-1965).

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