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Court is in session at new Buffalo courthouse

The new U.S. courthouse in Buffalo, as pictured from ground level. Glenn Edward Murray

BUFFALO — Buffalo’s new $137 million federal courthouse opened for business Monday following four years of construction and 14 years of planning.

The egg-shaped, 10-story courthouse near City Hall downtown is encased in glass panels meant to signify the transparency of the federal judiciary and has a curved glass pavilion on which the entire text of the U.S. Constitution is etched. It was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates of New York.

“Courthouses are important because they represent the institutions but they’re also statements about communities,” Rep. Brian Higgins said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by Chief U.S. District Judge William Skretny and Mayor Byron Brown just before Skretny was scheduled to take the bench.

Higgins said he would introduce legislation to name the new courthouse after Robert H. Jackson, the only Buffalo-area judge to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jackson, a former U.S. attorney general, was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1941 and served for 13 terms. In 1945, he took a leave for a year to serve as chief prosecutor of Nazi war criminals during the Nuremberg Trials. He died in 1954.

The sleek new courthouse has nine courtrooms, along with space for the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Court of Appeals, the federal public defender’s office and the U.S. General Services Administration.

It replaces the Depression-era Michael Dillon U.S. Courthouse, which had become cramped for space and provided for little separation between defendants, judges, jurors and members of the public.

The old building was the site of the Lackawanna Six cases, during which six young Yemeni-American men pleaded guilty to providing support to al-Qaida for attending a terror training camp in Afghanistan shortly before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The trial of anti-abortion extremist James Kopp also took place there following his arrest for the fatal 1998 shooting of abortion provider Dr. Barnett Slepian.

The former courthouse eventually will house U.S. Bankruptcy Court, U.S. Trustees offices and U.S. Tax Court. Skretny said the old building, also in the city’s Niagara Square, would be fully occupied.

“That should take place over the next five years, but it will be a livable, viable building,” Skretny said.

The grand opening of the new building was postponed four times by construction delays, including difficulties installing the glass panels and the discovery of mold in a few locations because of condensation during construction.

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