By MOLLY MULSHINE
Taking a cue from three other Monmouth County towns, Red Bank’s mayor has invited leaders of neighboring boroughs to consider forming a joint court system to cut costs.
Mayor Pasquale Menna made the offer to his counterparts in Little Silver, Rumson and Fair Haven, he announced at tonight’s council meeting.
A merged court would operate with one judge, one prosecutor, one public defender, one court administrator and one physical court space, Menna said. This can be more cost-effective than a shared service agreement, in which towns often use their own staff members rather than sharing with other boroughs.
“It’s no secret I’ve always been in favor of merging everything,” Menna said.
Menna said he was following the lead of Hazlet, Matawan and Keyport, which hope to abolish their individual courts and launch a regional court starting January 1.
Menna serves as the borough attorney in Matawan. Talks leading up to the announcement of that plan earlier were held in “secret,” the Asbury Park Press reported at the time.
How defendants and their lawyers might feel about the consolidation is an open question. Typically, as in Red Bank, courts are in session one day a week, and dozens of people accused of everything from failure to report the death of a dog to drunken driving participate in a cattle call, waiting for their matter to be heard by the lone judge.
Menna focused instead on the impact that a merger could have on the budgets of the participating towns.
“All I’m saying is it’s illogical for the 53 towns in Monmouth County to have 53 municipal courts,” Menna said. “It makes no sense.”
The court’s location has yet to be determined, although Menna said the physical space “makes no difference in this day and age,” and would probably be determined by a comparison of administrative costs in prospective locations. The mayor does have an idea for a name, though: Two Rivers Municipal Court.
“No town would take precedence,” Menna said. “Nobody takes the identity. We have to start thinking that there are no great walls of China between our respective towns.”
Red Bank is seeking a joint agreement rather than the absorption of smaller courts because “that creates the big-dog-versus-little-dog syndrome,” Menna said. “It’s much better to start anew with a brand new playing field with equality.”
The next step, if the other boroughs express interest, is commissioning a study to examine how much money would be saved in a merger, Menna said. This could be completed in as quickly as one month.
“The only way you’re going to cut the taxpayers’ burden is to eliminate layers of government that are leeches to our public treasury,” Menna said.