MUNICOURT MERGER PLAN GAINS A BACKER

hot-topic rightBy MOLLY MULSHINE

A proposal to establish a regional municipal court in the Red Bank area has some early momentum, says Mayor Pasquale Menna.

Menna recently invited his counterparts in Fair Haven, Little Silver, Rumson and Shrewsbury to consider merging their court systems to cut costs. One town’s elected officials have reacted favorably to the plan, though Menna wouldn’t say which one.

“The plan has been favorably reviewed by one municipality and partially reviewed by another,” Menna said at Wednesday’s council meeting. “The naysayers who said this couldn’t happen will be surprised.”

The municipality responded quickly and “very affirmatively,” Menna said. “It’s really hot. It’s exciting.”

Red Bank, however, is not waiting for other towns’ approval to start examining the plan’s feasibility, Menna said. He anticipates the borough will hold a focus meeting to nail down more firm information, and then make a public announcement as to the feedback from other towns.

Hearing back from the other town was “a very good start,” he said, but declined to comment further on plans.

Menna first unveiled the plan at the September 28 council meeting. The new regional court would operate with one judge, one prosecutor, one public defender, one court administrator and one physical court space, he 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.

The mayor 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 is the borough attorney in Matawan.

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 court could be called the Two Rivers Municipal Court, Menna said.

“No town would take precedence,” he said in September. “Nobody takes the identity. We have to start thinking that there are no great walls of China between our respective towns.”