Denver Bar Association
March 2006
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What’s in Your ‘Dream’ Justice Center?

by Mindy Marks

You know which courthouse has the best cafeteria food, where the current technology connections are and the safest courts for prisoner transportation. You hear the grumbles too, but what would an ideal judicial center look like?

In May 2005, voters approved a $378 million bond issue to build a new courthouse, detention center and parking garage in Denver’s Civic Center. The bond issue also includes an overhaul of the existing County Jail at Smith Road.

In December 2005, Steven Holl Architects, New York, was chosen to design the courthouse and Hartman-Cox Architects, Washington, D.C., was selected for the jail project. The definitive selection was not based on a specific design, but on a designer.

"We chose the designers, not on a design, but on their previous works and the kind of relationship we talked about building," said James Mejía, justice center project manager. "We’ve had continuous feedback (on the project) and most of us have preconceived notions of what we’d like to see; but we’d like to reserve judgment until our experts can present us with a plan."

The design and groundbreaking aren’t due until the second quarter of 2006, and the buildings aren’t scheduled to open until December 2009, but the legal community is already whispering about the possibilities a new justice center holds.

"They asked us, ‘What do you need?’" said Matt McConville, Denver County Court administrator. "We have real needs for jury deliberation rooms. Right now there are three for 14 courtrooms to share. When people need to deliberate, we’re always looking for a place for them to go. We also want the general session clerk’s office and criminal division clerk’s office together, and prisoner transportation outside the public halls so there aren’t people charged with murder walking past kids waiting in the halls."

Denver County Court’s Presiding Judge Andrew Armatas echoed McConville’s concerns for safety.

"I’d like to see every judge with a private chamber and private bathrooms (for safety reasons)," said Armatas. "The courthouse design will have everyone’s safety in mind; and, of course, we’d all like to see the courtrooms wired with current technology."

Judges aren’t the only ones who see technology as a courtroom necessity.

"I suggest emulating what they have done in Jefferson County with wired courtrooms," said John Redmond, assistant city attorney. "Now, you can go only about an arm’s length away and still be recorded. We could use up-to-date audio visual outlets and screens coming down to show material. It would be nice to have the proper lighting and seating."

While technology is icing for some, Charles Garcia, office head of the Denver Public Defender’s Office, hopes the new building will alleviate some space issues.

"I would like to see a place where clients can meet with attorneys," said Garcia. "Right now, when you want to talk to a client, there are only three little rooms to use. Hopefully, with the new courthouse there will be a holding cell between each courtroom and clients will be brought from the jail underground."

Garcia also hopes to take better care of the jurors.

"According to the bond proposal, the jury room will be spectacular," said Garcia. "It will have Internet access and be more colorful. On evenings and weekends, it will be used for social events. We want the experience to be as nice as possible."

According to Mejía, the city will ultimately decide on the design after gathering information from the user groups and neighborhood associations.

"I hope and pray that we can give input like other groups," said Redmond. "Attorneys are in the courts everyday."

Phase I: Post Office/Parking Garage Building — A schematic design for the Post Office/Parking Garage was due at the end of February. A contractor was selected and negotiations were initiated. They should be under contract by late March. Groundbreaking should take place in May.

Phase II: Detention Facility — The architects, Hartman-Cox, should be under contract by late March. The request for qualification for contractors were due out at the end of February.

Phase III: Courthouse — The architects, Steven Holl, should be under contract by late March. RFQ for contractors were due out at the end of February.

Phases II and III will be completed in December 2009.

Phase IV: County Jail at Smith Road — Work on this project will commence only after construction on all other phases has begun.


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