LB Courthouse Takes Off


     They’ve turned the Long Beach, Calif., courthouse into an airport.
     Things are surreal in So Cal these days.
     I know this isn’t relevant to most of our international reading audience, but the courthouse event of last week – the opening of a $340 million courthouse in Long Beach – is definitely interesting and may be an example for other courts around the world.
     A strange example, but definitely an example.
     Before we get into lessons, though, let’s look at the surrealism.
     Los Angeles County closed eight courthouses this year, stopped providing court reporters in civil cases, and fired 500 people.
     Then it finished building a $340 million courthouse.
     Apparently there isn’t any money to demolish the old Long Beach courthouse so it will just sit there on really valuable land in downtown Long Beach not far from the ocean.
     Yes, I’m shaking my head as I write this, but you know what a cynic I am. Maybe there’s a perfectly good explanation for this. All the news reports say this was a “public-private” partnership, but apparently part of the deal is that the county gets to pay for all the construction – plus interest – over 35 years.
     Sounds strangely like a bond issue.
     So what’s the private part? (And, no, that wasn’t an obscene reference.)
     I don’t know. If I were still a real news reporter and had some time and energy, I’d be looking more closely at this.
     But since I’m a lazy old guy now, let’s treat this as a summary judgment motion and consider the construction in its most positive light.
     A brief description of this new monument is in order first.
     If you were blindfolded and taken through the front door of this edifice before being allowed to see, you’d swear you were in an airport terminal.
     There’s a huge high-ceilinged open area just inside the doors – big enough for a couple of courtrooms – and what you see on the other end of this is a row of metal detectors and conveyor-belt x-ray machines. Above, there’s a flashing light display that looks like leaves (I think) for no readily apparent reason, but it does look nice.
     On the right, high up on the wall are a row of LED screens with lines of numbers and names just like you’d see at an airport.
     Except that no one (at least while I was there) was looking at the screens. (In case you’re wondering, the screens show docket numbers and party names. Apparently, they’re for people who have no idea what gate their trial is leaving from.)
     Once you get past the metal detectors, you’re still not in anything resembling a courthouse. There’s more open space (another courtroom’s worth) and more LED screens in case you missed the first group.
     If you go straight at this point, you find glass doors that open onto a courtyard at least as big as a football field with some nice plants, benches, and a long, narrow reflecting pool. Very Zen. Not very Court.
     The courts and clerk’s offices are off to the left. I didn’t check everything out, but the highlight for me was discovering that civil court files weren’t in the room with the “civil” sign – they were in “family law/probate.” You have no way of knowing that until you go through the line in the civil section.
     Apparently there’s going to be more stuff in there – the right side of the building was a bit of a mystery although I saw a few uniformed-types coming out of doors. I’m sure whoever those “private” investors are have something in mind. A Wal-Mart perhaps? Condos?
     I see some obvious uses that could actually make money for the court system.
     For example, this could be a terrific airport terminal.
     Why fight the traffic and security lines at LAX when you can check in at the Long Beach Courthouse, go quickly through security there, check the flight/docket screens, and hop onto a helicopter in the huge courtyard that takes you directly to your flight?
     I’d pay the court an extra $20 for that kind of service.
     Cirque du Soleil could rent out the space. There’s plenty of room for aerial acts.
     Party rentals come to mind. Imagine toga parties where judges could easily blend in.
     And the court courtyard (court-squared yard?) is perfect for weddings. You’ve got the judges right there to do the honors and lots of retail space for flower and dress shops and caterers.
     I’m thinking a wedding-planner kiosk right inside those front doors will be inspirational.
     Judicial systems around the world take note: this could be a big-time money-maker.

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