Half Billion-Dollar Courthouse Opens in San Diego

San Diego’s new $556 million courthouse is open for business.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — A 73-year-old typewriter and a stuffed marlin joined court files and office furniture in the new $556 million state-of-the-art courthouse in San Diego over the weekend, closing the doors on the 56-year-old asbestos-riddled building that sits on an earthquake fault.

The new 22-story courthouse downtown replaces the 1961 courthouse that occupies three downtown blocks, and consolidates all court services into one building.

The move was delayed for months by complications getting the smoke alarm system approved by the state fire marshal, which did not happen until October, said court executive officer Michael Roddy.

Now, Roddy added, the court must clear out old furniture, then return the old building to San Diego County by the end of May.

For long-term superior court judges, the move was bittersweet.

Judge Frederic Link, who personally carried the marlin that had hung over his desk, said he’s been “hanging out” in the old courthouse since he was a law clerk for attorneys in 1967.

“Most of my practice has been in this courthouse. It’s kind of like leaving my home where I grew up,” Link said.

“I’m the last one out; I guess you could say I’m turning off the lights. It’s a sad affair for me; it’s not a happy time for me because there are a lot of memories in these chambers and courtroom and a lot of decisions that affected a lot of people’s lives here. It’s a very meaningful place to me.”

Link said he presided over 250 murder jury trials and six death-penalty cases.

Judge David Gill, a superior court judge since 1979, called himself a “dinosaur,” who does not use a computer, but a 1944 manual typewriter he carried to the new courthouse. He called the new courthouse a “technological marvel” that will support the court’s goal of going “paperless.”

Gill recalled presiding over the longest criminal jury trial in the court’s history – over 200 days long – in which church employee Dale Akiki was acquitted of molesting children he took care of at a church day care.

Gill said he was “subliminally resisting the move,” and had not visited his new courtroom until right before the move.

“I’ve been in this courtroom for 37 or 38 years; a lot of my life is tied up in this courtroom and courthouse,” Gill said.

Gill, 84, said he plans to work another three or four years, but the new courthouse just won’t have the same personal memories for him.

Judge Runston “Tony” Maino, a critic of the cost and process of building the new courthouse, thinks the public got the short end of the stick.

“The judges have taken good care of themselves, with secure parking, our own elevator and offices with views,” Maino said.

“We have not taken very good care of jurors, who sit on unpadded wooden benches during jury selection, and we have not taken very good care of the DA, defense, and the sheriff, by having only about one-third of the space for evidence as compared to the old courthouse.”

Maino also said the new courthouse came with a $3.3 million increase in security costs.

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