Judge orders new courthouse

Doucette cites number of deficiencies with space

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— Routt County has been ordered to build a new court facility.

Chief Judge Richard P. Doucette of the 14th Judicial District issued the order Tuesday morning.

He cited a number of deficiencies with the space allotted to courts in the Routt County Courthouse.

"This court concludes that the appalling conditions under which the Combined Courts of Routt County are now required to perform required functions compel this court to use its inherent power to require Routt County, through its Board of Commissioners, to provide a safe and adequate facility for its courts," the document stated.

Courts have the authority to direct counties to construct new judicial facilities if their current facilities are unsafe and inadequate.

"It's been done before," Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison said of other courts in the state compelling counties to build new facilities.

Doucette is ordering the county to provide a new court facility with three courtrooms that meet current court standards by Jan. 1, 2006.

State standards mandate that any courthouse in the state with three judges provide at least 33,200 square feet.

The Routt County Courthouse accommodates two district court judges and one county judge in 11,200 square feet.

The county must appear in court at 9 a.m. Monday to argue why Doucette should not order the county to comply with his order by Jan. 1, 2006.

County officials agree the order is long overdue, but they are concerned the county cannot meet Doucette's demand within three years.

"The deadline set by the judge will make the county's work very difficult," Ellison said.

He said the county must first figure out how to gain the community's support for the project.

The space constraints and unsafe conditions that drove Doucette to issue the court order didn't faze voters at the polls.

About 59 percent of Routt County voters said no to building a proposed $17.2 million judicial facility in November.

"We are currently trying to determine what needs to be changed in the plan to get that support," Ellison said.

County officials expect results back this week on a post election survey that should identify some of the reasons voters rejected the courthouse initiative.

A few concerns resonate with people who opposed the plan.

The proposed 1.3 mill property tax increase, a planned parking garage, the facility's size and location and the project's overall price tag likely played a large role in voters' decision-making.

Concern exists that voters would never approve a new court facility no matter how much the county tweaks it.

But voters can't get around a court order.

That's why county officials want more time than Doucette is offering to give residents a second chance to vote on a new court facility.

The county is asking Doucette to extend his deadline by seven months.

"It's a timeframe issue for us," County Manager Tom Sullivan said.

Ellison said the extension should give the county enough time to get the issue on the ballot in November 2003 and complete a project that appeals to residents' tastes.

About $575,000 was spent in the process of getting the proposed court facility on the ballot the first time.

The proposed 2003 county budget includes $300,000 to re-evaluate the project.

The county wants to make sure it has public support before it spends more money, Ellison said.

But even if county officials do not get the support they're looking for, the county's time is up.

A new court facility is inevitable.

"More than reasonable time has been provided for the county to resolve these very serious deficiencies," the document states. "It is the responsibility of Routt County to provide a safe and adequate court facility and Routt County has failed to do so."

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