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Columbia County Courthouse Told Time Is Up

By Susan Barnett


Hudson Valley, NY –

Twenty years after New York required it, and nineteen years after Washington followed suit, Columbia County still hasn't made its courthouse accessible to people with disabilities. Hudson Valley bureau chief Susan Barnett reports the state has lost patience.

Judge George Cerisia, the chief administrative judge for the 3rd judicial district, which includes Columbia County, told area officials in June that there is a method in place that would have the state do the work and pay for it by holding all state aid for the county until it reimburses the expense. It's never been done, he told them, and he doesn't want to be the first. But he told reporters that the municipal officials were quote very receptive to getting moving on creating a more accessible courthouse. Columbia county board of supervisors head Art Baer says the county's caught between two different mandates.

Baer says the judge wasn't impressed by the financing dilemma, but the fact is that in this economy, it may be difficult for the county to get funding. The current design got the state's attention after a physically disabled reporter had to crawl up a flight of stairs to cover a trial. The trial was then moved to the first floor.

The state did a study of 275 courthouses in 40 courts in 1994. It found limited accessibility at that time and recommended that the court system fully comply with the ADA. Gary Maslin is with the NYS Commission on Quality of Care and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities.

In the case of the hundred year old Columbia County courthouse...Board of supervisors chair Art Baer says Americans with Disabilities Act compliance has been high on his priority list in his two years in office. Jerry Simons, who is now deceased, held Baer's position for 17 years...so why this wasn't pursued before is a question that can't be answered.