Denver Bar Association
February 2003
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O' Justice, Look At You Now!

by Doug McQuiston

Formidable, just like Judge Arraj

There was once a quote on the front of the old Denver Post building that read, "O, Justice, When Expelled From Other Habitations, Make This Thy Dwelling Place." Well, "federal justice" in Denver hasn’t been expelled by any means, but it certainly has found a nice new dwelling place. In November, the new Alfred A. Arraj U.S Courthouse opened, right across the street (to the west) from the old U.S. Courthouse. If you haven’t had a chance to look it over, (or a hearing or two), you really should stop by.

Located at 901 19th Street, the new building houses the offices of the U.S. District Court of Colorado, the district judges and magistrate judges, with the exception of Judge Richard Matsch. Judge Matsch has retained his courtroom in the beautiful Byron White U.S. Courthouse, 1823 Stout Street, along with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The former U.S. Courthouse at 19th and Stout will now undergo a major, multi-year, top-to-bottom renovation and redesign. It will eventually house some of the U.S. Courts offices, additional courtrooms and the U.S. Marshal Service.

The new Alfred A. Arraj U.S. Courthouse, located at 901 19th St.

The Arraj Courthouse is an impressive example of post-modern design, aptly named after the late U.S. District Judge Alfred Arraj, who served on the federal bench from 1957 until his death in 1992, (and was known as a pretty formidable presence himself). The building took two years to finish, with its main structure rising 11 stories above the two-story glass enclosed lobby. It is the first new U.S. Courthouse to incorporate security and anti-terrorism features into its design and location from the ground up. The beauty of these features disguises their solid purpose. Broad grass plazas on the north and west are shielded street-side by concrete barriers to prevent vehicle incursion. The south courtyard is several feet above street grade, and contains a beautiful stream-like water feature. Its broad expanse is also protected from vehicle incursion by its elevation. The building itself has blast-proof features that would help it withstand any Oklahoma City-style attempt to damage it.

The glass and stone lobby houses the secure entry and offices. The entry includes the standard metal-detector array, along with complete closed-circuit video monitor coverage. The detector array is well designed to assure quick flow of courthouse visitors. Finding your courtroom once you’re through security is easier than you might think, since the lobby has a large sign with easy--to-follow diretions.

Keep in mind, however, that the Courtroom’s number may not correspond with the floor it’s on, so pay attention.

The magistrate judges’ facilities are strikingly improved over their former quarters. The courtrooms are substantially larger than their old counterparts. Each has space for a full jury, to accommodate the increased selection of magistrate judges to try civil matters. The courtrooms are also thoroughly "wired" for technology use. Each counsel table has electrical and other outlets hidden beneath a panel in the middle of the table. These will allow use of notebook computers during hearings and trial, and will also allow use of linked technology to view and display exhibits without the usual tangle of wires splayed across the floor.

The courtroom floor is another marvel—a "false floor," allowing for audio-visual, computer, and other wires to be routed beneath it by removing and replacing individual floor panels. The floor panels themselves are soft, soundproofed composite designed to improve acoustics, which are superb. Air handling ductwork and outlets are also housed in the floor for both comfort and quiet. Rich, leather seating for counsel, and comparable seating for the jurors, complete the business-like, but upscale, look of the magistrate courtrooms. Matte-finished Dakota mahogany granite graces the back wall behind the judges’ bench. For anyone who has spent any time in the former magistrate courtrooms, the new facilities will be a genuine treat.

The main district courtrooms are comparably equipped with the latest in wiring and connectivity technology, and comparable seating and table arrangements. Each courtroom has several closed-circuit television monitors that allow a close-up look inside the courtrooms from every angle, at any time, for security purposes. Be sure to smile when you walk in.

The courtrooms each have separate witness and attorney waiting rooms in the vestibule between the double-door entries. These rooms will serve as convenient areas to meet with clients during trial breaks, and will give witnesses a comfortable spot to await their turn on the hot seat. The building, at 260,000 square feet, is not dramatically larger than the old facility. However, the new facility squeezes out the maximum efficiency from every square foot.

Each courtroom is also equipped with assistive headsets that see double duty. During hearings or trials, parties or witnesses who do not speak English will now hear real-time interpretation of the proceedings directly through the headsets. People with hearing difficulties can also use the headsets as personal amplifiers. Each bench and clerk’s desk are equipped with networked computers.

In several "unofficial" interviews with court employees, the reviews so far have been uniformly positive. I attended a conference before one of the magistrate judges less than a week after the facility opened, and was amazed at how well everything worked. The magistrate judge and staff were already comfortably at home and settled in their new digs.

Congratulations are due to the design architectural team, Anderson Mason Dale Architects and Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum, and to the general contractor, PCL Construction Services. However, more important than how the building looks is how it works, and for that the thanks go to Clerk James Manspeaker, Deputy Clerk Stephen Ehrlich, their staffs, and the judges and their staffs.

The next time you’re down for a hearing or settlement conference, ask your friendly U.S. magistrate judge for a quick tour. If you’re nice about it, they may oblige. The building is one we can all be proud of. Makes me happy to pay my taxes every year.

Well, almost.

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