Steamboat Springs Criminal cases handled in the Routt County Courthouse hit an all-time high in 2001, which has county judicial officials wondering how much more the 79-year-old facility can take.
Last year, the 14th Judicial District Attorney's Office in Steamboat Springs filed a total of 2,643 cases.
The office, which is manned by three prosecutors, filed 255 felony cases, 916 misdemeanors, handled 1,395 traffic cases and 77 cases involving juveniles.
The number of cases is an increase from 2000, which was also a record-breaking year with 2,330 cases.
"Increases in caseload aggravate an already bad situation," said Evan Herman, court administrator for the past 14 years.
With a record number of criminal cases, Herman said the total volume of cases, which includes civil matters, handled by the historical building last year is about 4,600.
"Compare this figure to the 216 cases filed in 1923, and remember we have continued to occupy exactly the same space for the last 79 years," Herman said.
Because of an increase in caseload throughout the years and the fact the building is built for standards set in 1923, the county is expecting to ask voters this fall to support a building referendum for a new court facility.
Because of an increase in caseload, officials are concerned a narrow hallway that divides the Routt County Courtroom and the 14th Judicial Courtroom continues to be overcrowded.
In this narrow hallway, lawyers, witnesses, defendants and victims are all coming into contact with each other. Defendants who are in the custody of the Routt County Sheriff's Office are taken through this hallway to get to the courtrooms.
"We are mixing both sides of a case," Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison said. "It creates a lot of tension and a great deal of problems."
Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James has worked in the Steamboat Springs office since 1987.
The frustration St. James and other prosecutors in the office have with the court facility is the absence of attorney/client conference rooms.
During a day when the court docket is full with misdemeanor cases, St. James said he and his colleagues have to meet with defendants in a small room designed for jury deliberations.
"We take people who have personal matters in a room where there are three lawyers working," St. James said. "There is no privacy. It is very awkward for people to talk about their cases when there are people around."
St. James said the problem gets worse when a jury trial is happening because legal matters with victims, defendants or with defense attorneys are conducted in the hallway.
"The courthouse traffic hears these personal issues," St. James said. "Taxpayers get to stand in a hallway and talk about these life-altering events that are happening to them and this is the facility we have for them."
The state has notified the county the current facility does not meet state standards.
The existing court facility, which houses a county judge and two district court judges, is 11,200 square feet.
According to state standards, a courthouse in the state with two judges is to have a minimum square footage of 26,900.
The level of square feet the county should be providing with three judges set by the state is 33,200.
The county is proposing to build a 52,000-square-foot building at the southwest corner of Oak and Sixth streets.
County Manager Tom Sullivan said county officials are working closely with the project's architect, Denver-based HLM Design, on decreasing the square footage of the building.
County officials and the architect are attempting to decrease the size of the building but still allow enough room for three courtrooms, conference rooms, holding cells and office space for court staff, prosecutors and the county's probation department.
The building would also provide space for a fourth courtroom if needed in the future, Sullivan said.
Sullivan expects for preliminary sketches of the building to be complete in April, which will also give the county a cost of the building.
Herman and St. James said office space is needed for court staff and prosecutors.
When the courthouse was built it housed five employees. Now, Herman oversees 17 employees. Ten of those employees work in the court clerk's office.
"It is extremely overcrowded," Herman said.
With case files on the rise, clerks have to scramble to find room for new cases.
"We try to accommodate as many files as we can," Herman said. "We have storage space in the basement, but there are so many files we can put down there."
St. James and his staff are housed in the first floor of the courthouse annex, which was added to the north end of the courthouse.
Because cases have increased, a third prosecutor was added to the office in the mid-1990s, St. James said.
St. James and Deputy District Attorney Elizabeth Wittemyer work in quaint offices where stacks of files take up floor space.
"In Elizabeth's office, she can't fit more than two attorneys at a time," St. James said.
Deputy District Attorney David Moffat does not have an office but works in a small conference room.
"When we need to use the conference room, David has to get what he is working on and try to find an empty table in the office," St. James said.
Also working in the office are two secretaries, a victim witness coordinator and part-time support staff.
"We outgrew this office in the mid-'90s," St. James said. "We have been doing our best."
Herman said he saw the facility's shortfalls when he started with the county in 1988.
Prior to coming to Steamboat Springs, Herman worked for Denver and Jefferson counties.
Through the years, he has made it a point to visit courtrooms across the state and whenever he is on vacation in other states.
"I have seen a lot of courthouses," Herman said. "This is not the very worst courtroom I have seen but it is one of the worst and it is by far the worst I have worked in."