January 31, 2012 in City

County dusts off master plan to begin courthouse reorganization

By The Spokesman-Review
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Spokane County Public Defender John Rodgers, left, discusses issues with client Raymond Weathers on Monday in the hallway outside the Family Law Court in the Spokane County Courthouse.
(Full-size photo)

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People trying to iron out child custody problems bump into each other in the main-floor corridor of the Spokane County Courthouse almost on a daily basis while everyone else who has business in the building brushes by.

It’s not the ideal place for mothers, fathers and grandparents working out their most personal issues in Family Law Court.

That court uses a tiny room near the front entrance of the courthouse. Its paternity docket typically draws a large number of people who line the benches in the adjacent corridor.

Often, the court and state are trying to get child support money from people who are having a hard time paying. “You are really confronting the guy’s poverty,” said John Rodgers, a public defender who was working on a case for a client on Monday.

Spokane County commissioners have been talking for years about reorganizing courthouse offices to put family court in one of the upper stories, where attorneys and their clients can have private conversations without being overheard.

Commissioners said they are frequently stopped by people who can’t find the office or courtroom they are looking for. The entire campus, comprising several major buildings, is more of a mishmash of functions rather than an organized facility.

The commissioners last week dusted off a 7-year-old master plan that would create a customer-service center on the main floor of the 1895 building, with the offices of the auditor, assessor, treasurer and county commissioners there.

That would be the start for a wider reorganization, which is likely to take years to accomplish.

A $500,000 project to restore and reopen the main entrance on the south side of the courthouse is expected to be finished this spring. Once the front door reopens, security screening can move into the foyer area, in turn providing access to the southwest section of the main floor where the auditor is expected to move.

District and municipal courts occupy a variety of spaces across the courthouse campus. The prosecuting attorney has staff in six different locations.

Putting all of the prosecutors into one building could save up to $600,000 a year in lost productivity, commissioners said.

The county may also need to find room for creation of a 13th superior court, and it currently spends about $150,000 a year to lease space in the privately owned Monroe Court Building at Monroe Street and Mallon Avenue.

The city of Spokane leases space from the county for its municipal court operation.

But a tight budget is going to make it difficult for the county to come up with money to remodel aging offices for new purposes.

In addition, the courthouse has a variety of structural issues that will have to be repaired at the same time the remodeling is done, officials said.

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