New Sacramento Courthouse Gets Funding

     (CN) - California's Judicial Council is expected today to approve spending $27 million on blueprints for a new criminal courthouse in Sacramento. "I'm the eternal optimist. I believed it would ultimately get built," Sacramento Presiding Judge Robert Hight said in an interview Monday.
     A statewide budget crisis in 2008 gutted the courthouse construction budget, with the Legislature taking funds set aside for construction projects and redirecting the money to keep standing courthouses open. Dozens of courthouse construction projects ended up on the indefinitely-delayed list.
     "When the budget crisis hit, we were ready to proceed with design, construction plans. Then the council delayed this, because there wasn't any money left in the account," Hight said.
     The judge credited Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) for putting $40 million into the budget for courthouse construction. "Sen. Steinberg went to bat for us and made sure it happened. But for him, and then the governor authorizing the funds, we wouldn't be here," he said.
     Steinberg could not be reached for comment but the decision to go ahead with the construction of a new criminal courthouse in the state's capital comes along with the economic turnaround in California where employment is increasing, business activity is picking up and the state budget is back in the black with a $4 billion projected surplus.
     The authorized budget amount for the new criminal courthouse is $451 million.
     Within the judiciary, spending on individual courthouse projects must be approved by the judiciary's top rule-making body, the Judicial Council which is chaired by Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye who also appoints a large majority of the council members.
     For the Sacramento courthouse, the process started with a recommendation by the Court Facilities Advisory Committee which then moved to the Policy Coordination and Liaison Committee. Based on a presentation from the chair of the facilities committee, the liaison committee voted unanimously last Thursday to recommend that the full council approve $27 million for blueprints at the next council meeting which is scheduled for Tuesday.
     Based on past practice, the council is almost certain to approve what is recommended to it.
     Within the council, the Court Facilities Advisory Committee determines the fate of every proposed courthouse project, deciding which one is shelved and which one goes forward.
     "We were very sorry to have to put it on the back burner when we did," said Justice Brad Hill who chairs the facilities committee. "This is certainly a critically needed project and we're looking forward to getting it on track. Of those that were deferred, it was at the top of the list."
     The liaison committee to which he spoke was open to the press and public as a result of a new Judicial Council rule that opened almost all the council committees to the press and public. The rule was passed by the council as result of pressure from the Legislature.
     One reason the Sacramento courthouse was first in line for funding was the need for improved security, said the court's presiding judge.
     "We only have one in-custody elevator and it only goes to the 4th floor," said Hight. "If you have an in-custody matter on the 5th or 6th floor, you have to walk the defendant upstairs and across public halls and it's just not good for security," he said.
      Judges also currently share an elevator with members of the public. "You're in there with the defendant's family and the victim's family," said Hight. "Though nothing has happened thus far, sometimes it's tense."