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The $33 million seven-story Erie County Family Court building opened for public business Monday, even as electricians were installing lighting fixtures in the lobby ceiling.

The court, which will be formally dedicated Sept. 28, handled cases as it normally would, on issues such as child support and custody matters. The county Probation Department's 160 employee, housed on two floors, also began full-scale operations in the building at Franklin and Niagara streets.

Frank J. Boccio, the court's chief clerk, said the building's doors opened to the public at 9 a.m. Monday.

"We closed our doors at 25 Delaware at 5 p.m. Friday and started right on time here today," Boccio said.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Sharon S. Townsend, an Erie County Family Court judge and the state's Buffalo-based supervising judge of all Family Court operations in Western New York, called the new courthouse "beautiful."

"What with moving a whole court operation and all of the events of last week in New York City, I'm very pleased that we are up and running and in business today," Townsend said Monday.

A full docket of about 800 cases will likely be handled by the judges and hearing officers in the new building on Sept. 24, she said.

Family Court began operating in the County Hall Annex at 25 Delaware in 1965, about three years after the court was created to replace the old Children's Court operations.

The annex, also home to the Erie County district attorney's office and the County Legislature, was built in part to accommodate the Family Court operation that ultimately outgrew the space constraints of the two floors it occupied.

Townsend's boss, State Supreme Court Justice Vincent E. Doyle, stressed that the five floors in the new building devoted to the Family Court operations are safer and more dignified than the cramped and crowded two floors the entire court occupied at the County Hall Annex.

Doyle, administrative judge of the state's eight-county Buffalo-based Eighth Judicial District, said the new structure provides courthouse dignity that didn't exist in the Family Court's old cramped operations.

The construction of the new courthouse next to the Rath County Office Building, is part of a continuing $85 million overhaul of the county's public buildings, with an additional $52 million slated for renovating the County Hall Annex, Erie County Hall on Franklin Street and 77 West Eagle St.

By 2005, the federal government is expected to open a twin seven-story U.S. courthouse annex on the south side of Court Street on a block bounded by Pearl, Franklin, Court and Niagara streets at a cost of $52 million.


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