New Long Beach Courthouse Unveiled
(CN) - Judges showed off the new $490 million Long Beach Superior Courthouse in a before-and-after tour that included the old building that officials have called one of the worst in the state.
The old courthouse, opened in 1958, will make way for the Governor George Deukmejian Courthouse: a low-rise iron and glass building on Magnolia Avenue, with a spacious lobby, several security entrances and plenty of natural light.
During a tour for media and officials, South Judicial District Supervising Judge James Otto and Assistant Supervising Judge Michael Vicencia said they were pleased that their new home would correct longstanding issues with security and extended waits and lines that plague the old building on South Ocean Avenue.
Before unveiling the new building, the judges shared a few horror stories from their time in the old one.
Vicencia said a juror died of a heart attack in the sixth-floor cafeteria in 2005. With only three public elevators, one of which was busted, paramedics could not reach him in time.
Vicencia called that a "black eye to this courthouse ever since."
The old courthouse was retrofitted in 2010, but Vicencia said that even so, the building could withstand only a moderate earthquake.
A series of quakes in the 1990s created a 6-inch gap between the west and east wings. Metal plates were pounded in to hold the building together.
The tour took in a grim arraignment courtroom with a cage to hold defendants. Close to a side door were half a dozen shackles, with a rat trap nearby on the floor.
Asked if he would miss anything about the old courthouse, Vicencia joked that he had made a "pet of one of the rats."
Judges Otto and Vicencia said that the court had served the public well but that officials had known since the 1990s that the building was past its sell-by date.
When the old building opened, the population of Long Beach was 344,168; it has nearly doubled since then.
"I do think we're going from one of the worst courthouses in the state to one of the best," Vicencia said.
The old courthouse has 25 courtrooms to serve 650,000 residents of the Long Beach area and 189 Superior Court employees.
The new courthouse could be expanded to 31 courtrooms.
A jury assembly area resembled an airport lounge, with workstations for jurors, digital media hookups, ample seating, high-definition TVs, and an outdoor patio space.
Vicencia said he hoped the new courthouse will make citizens feel less "resentful" about doing their civic duty.
There were 4,516 jury trials in Los Angeles Superior Court in fiscal years 2011 to 2012. More than 1.2 million jurors responded to summonses.
"I do think they're going to find this much more pleasant," Vicencia said standing in the middle of the jury area. "One of the few obligations we have in our democracy is jury service."
Los Angeles County and the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office plan to rent some space in the 531,000-square-foot building, which took 29 months to build in a public-private partnership.
The courthouse includes a ground-floor press room for up to 10 reporters, wireless access, space in each courtroom for cameras, and audio and video links.
Doors open to the public on Sept. 9.