For the week of August 19 thru August 25, 1998  

Court space crunched

County plans for expansion

Express Staff Writer

g19house.gif (9452 bytes)The county has purchased this single-story house across Walnut Street from the Sheriff’s Office, visible in the background, to house more office space. (Express photo by Willy Cook)

Blaine County legal eagles just don’t have enough room to spread their wings in the cramped Blaine County Judicial Building office spaces.

"We’ve got problems," Fifth District Judge James J. May said last week. "We just need to make some plans for the next 10 to 15 years."

May said criminal cases have increased 300 percent over the past 10 years, and he’s seen some increases in civil cases as well.

Heavier case load means a bigger need for space.

Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jill Bolton must work in a building across the street from the other county lawyers. Deputy Court Clerk Kate Riley is literally parked in a janitor’s closet disguised with a new coat of paint.

"The water heater’s behind that door," she pointed out. "Telephones [switchboards] are behind that other one."

Even worse, when visiting judges come to the Wood River Valley from other counties to hear local cases, they usually use that closet/office, but now will have to "roam around," May said, adding that that’s no way to treat a guest.

There is a visiting judge’s chambers, but Blaine County Bailiff Russ Pagni already uses that space for his office.

Up front, too many court clerk desks cram in a space tighter than Cinderella’s slipper.

Want to check up on case law at the county law library?

You’ll have to visit the, hallway to judges’ chambers where copies of Annotated American Law Reports line one wall and readers not infrequently slump against the other one.

Other law materials are even less accessibly stored in the "mini" courtroom and the visiting judges chambers.

Court matters have to be scheduled in the Blaine County Sheriff’s Office or the old county courthouse meeting rooms, both next door, when the two big and one "mini" courtroom in the judicial building are tied up.

With his colleagues in mind, Judge May offered Blaine County Commissioners a few suggestions for how this space crunch should be eased.

The library situation is a no-brainer, almost.

CD-ROMs--computer-readable compact disks--could solve the book problem, especially since the retailer will throw in a computer if enough replacement volumes are ordered, Blaine County District Court Clerk Matt Miller said.

However, no one knows where to place that computer, because there are no extra rooms.

As for the current judicial building workspace jam, remodeling or expansion seem the only immediate ways to go.

Ultimately though, May said the staff office space needs major expansion.

The Blaine County Ccmmissioners assistant Denise Jackson agreed.

"We’re having to start being creative," she said of alleviating the shortage of office space.

Already, the county has purchased a small, single-story house across Walnut Street from the sheriff’s office.

While the county does plan to build new courthouse office space there, design plans have not been completed.

A $300,000 buildings and grounds line item in the Blaine County budget is earmarked for the project sometime in the future.

"It’s going to take a big bulk of money to build a new facility," Jackson said. "We’re not there yet. We still have to build up the pot."

The commissioners will continue working on these space issues with May, Jackson added.


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