While there are offices in closets and boxes of court records piled up in the clerk’s and district attorney’s office, one of the key challenges for the 41-year-old Douglas County Judicial & Law Enforcement Center are when juries are called.
Bringing in around 100 residents to serve on a jury requires every parking space in the center and quite a few in surrounding lots.
And that’s if there’s just a trial in one of the district courts.
Just getting into the building requires those 100 residents, along with witnesses, survivors and perpetrators, to squeeze through a metal detector at its entrance.
District Judge Tod Young told county commissioners last week that he believes Douglas might have the only courthouse that requires judges to walk through inmate visiting to get into the building.
That some tragedy hasn’t occurred is a testament to the people who maintain security in the courthouse.
And there’s the rub.
The center was born in controversy over conditions in the jail that was in the basement of the historic courthouse. The county ended up on the wrong end of a federal lawsuit, and when asked, its roughly 20,000 residents voted to support funding a new structure.
The original design included an atrium and wide open spaces. It was actually a beautiful place to work and visit. But over the years, those spaces have been filled in with offices and the space has become darker and more congested.
With the jail filling up on a regular basis, the county renovated it in 2010-11, improving that part of the structure immeasurably.
In 2014, members of Douglas County’s judiciary raised the cramped conditions, with Justice of the Peace Tom Perkins leading the discussion.
Over the past nine years, the county has worked on plans first to expand the building, and then to build new after learning renovating the building would cost $10 million more than building on a new site. That doesn’t include the cost of trying to conduct business while dodging the work.
Do we need a new courthouse? Yeah, we do. A key hurdle, though, is catching up with inflation and interest rates that have driven the cost of the project to $50 million, so far.
Last week’s approval was just the first step in a long process. Let’s come together to ensure a successful conclusion.