There was sitting room on the floor only in Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Idee C. Fox's courtroom this morning as community residents and activists crowded into 426 City Hall to hear the emergency petition of three City Council members to prevent the closure of 11 libraries.
Mayor Michael Nutter has proposed closing 11 library branches as part of his administration's efforts to address a $100 million deficit in this year's budget.
City Council members Jannie L. Blackwell, Bill Green and Jack Kelly brought an emergency petition for entry of preemptory judgment Dec. 24.
In a separate lawsuit, seven city residents and AFSCME District Council 47, which represents some city workers including library employees, are also seeking to challenge the budget decision.
Along with Nutter, the board of trustees of the Free Library of Philadelphia and Siobhan A. Reardon, the director of the Free Library of Philadelphia, are named as defendants in both actions.
Both legal actions argue that City Council has to approve the decision to close the branches.
Tanya Westbrook, one of the first witnesses called today and one of the resident plaintiffs who resides near the Logan branch in North Philadelphia, said she bought her house primarily because of the library. She said that the Greater Olney branch is within walking distance, but her oldest son was jumped by a group of assailants under a Regional Rail bridge last year while walking to that branch.
Westbrook also said that she uses the Logan branch for job applications and to pursue her poetry.
"It's so personal," Westbrook said. "It's like it's our private little sanctuary."
At least twice Monday morning, Fox shushed the courtroom gallery as people responded with outrage or mirth to questions asked by the attorneys or to answers given by witnesses.
The library has its central branch in Center City, three regional branches, a library for the blind and physically handicapped and 54 branches, according to the City Council petition.
Sophie Bryan and Lauren Vidas, both aides to Green, are representing the council members, according to court papers
Elizabeth Mattioni, chairwoman of the Philadelphia Law Department's litigation group, is listed as Nutter's counsel, according to court papers.
Irv Ackelsberg of Langer Grogan & Diver, Ralph J. Teti of Willig Williams & Davidson, and Sherrie J. Cohen are representing the resident plaintiffs and the union in their suit, according to court papers.
The hearing is scheduled to continue 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.
-- Amaris Elliott-Engel, Staff Reporter