Wednesday, October 30, 2002
Winston Churchill said "Democracy is the worst form of government except all others." The debate over Routt County Referendum 1A, the new judicial facility bond issue and associated mill levy question, is proving that statement true.
Some opponents of the new judicial facility say it should be built on the outskirts of Steamboat Springs and should be built as cheaply as possible. They say the voters should reject the plans for the project, which were developed over a period of nine years by two citizens committees and a group of highly qualified architects and engineers. Certainly these people are entitled to express their opinions but should voters allow themselves to be persuaded by these views? Consider the facts:
The judicial system is one of three equal branches of our democracy. While some actions of the judiciary are properly subject to criticism, it serves to protect the rights of individuals against the majority and is necessary for the application of the rule of law to specific conflicts. Without it, many of our laws would be meaningless or would have no practical effect. If the courts are marginalized, our entire system of government is jeopardized.
The plans for the new judicial facility are the result of more than 50 public meetings conducted since 1992. The need for a new facility, its size, its location and its design have all been considered and the current opposition was free to become involved in this careful, deliberative process. By and large, they chose to wait until after the county had committed to a particular plan by purchasing the necessary land and spending a significant amount of time and money to develop and obtain approval of that plan. A new facility has been needed for at least 10 years. Should we allow those who waited until now to speak deprive the community of this opportunity to solve the problem?
The need for the new judicial facility is not theoretical and there have been security related incidents at the courthouse. While none of the safety-related incidents have resulted in harm to a person, it is only a matter of time. Recently, a criminal defendant escaped from the courthouse. Fortunately, he was only seeking to escape and harmed no one. But he could have.
Some years ago, a litigant in a child custody case attempted to attack the judge. Fortunately, a deputy stopped that attacker before he reached the judge. On another occasion, a litigant in another child custody case brandished a firearm in court and knocked over a court reporter while escaping.
Do we really have to wait until someone is hurt to recognize the danger? Should we give any weight to the opinions of those who say we should wait until something happens before acting? Who will pay for such complacency? The ranchers, farmers, merchants , miners and other citizens of Routt County who voted for and completed the current courthouse in 1923 recognized that the courts should be at the center of the community and should be housed in a facility reflecting the importance of the judicial system in our democracy. Will the current citizens of Routt County lack the understanding, vision and civic pride that those earlier residents demonstrated?
John D. Merrill