Security at courthouse, courtroom raises concerns

By Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

Funds are being sought from the state to assess the Quay County Courthouse’s ability to meet present and future judicial needs, said Judge Donald Schutte of the 10th Judicial District Court.

A request for $200,000 has been submitted to the state Legislative Finance Council for a needs assessment, Schutte said.

“It’s purpose is for a professional consultant to come in and look at what we have, look at the various functions at the county courthouse and to see if we can modify the existing structure. And if not feasible, to give us an estimate of the cost to build something new,” Schutte said.

The assessment would look at the court’s needs now and into the future for at least 15 years.

The four-story, 1939 courthouse was one of President Roosevelt’s WPA or Works Progress Administration projects.

The building’s age and design are the cause of many shortcomings, Schutte said.

“There is no adequate method of providing realistic security to the court,” said Schutte in his request for a special appropriation.
Concerns about the building include:

• Limited ability to protect those who come and go in the courtroom or employees who work in other offices and agencies in the courthouse, Schutte said.
• It is the last district courthouse in the state not to have metal detectors, typically used to screen for concealed weapons on people entering judicial offices or courtrooms, Schutte said.
There is no metal detector at the courthouse because there are multiple entrances and several county business offices that are frequented by visitors who are not considered at high risk. It also would be too costly to man and purchase a metal detector, Schutte said.
• There is no way to realistically secure the building if there were a hostile or terrorist activity, based on a recent security audit by local law enforcement agencies, Schutte said.
“It’s close to flunking from a security point of view,” Schutte said.
• There have been instances when defendants have been unruly or combative in the courtroom, and on two occasions when a subject, with known mental health issues, has entered different offices in the courthouse, Schutte said.
• A survey by the city emergency management also called for corrective measures, Schutte said.
• County offices and judicial offices are on separate phone systems making it difficult to have a multi-floor and multi-agency alert/alarm system.
• Because there is no separate entry or exit for jurors, they must pass through the courtroom near witnesses, defendants and others who are part of a trial or court proceeding. “A juror should feel totally free of any outside influence,” Schutte said.

When Schutte took office in early September, the courtroom underwent $20,000 in renovations to change its layout and provide more distance between defendants and the bench, said Diane Ulibarri, court administrator.

Other courthouse concerns include limited electrical wiring. “There are no electrical outlets in the courtroom other than behind the bench which makes it difficult to use any electric media in the Courtroom,” according to the funding request.

Schutte also said there is a not adequate space for record storage.

Heating and air conditioning systems are antiquated.

In the wake of the recent security audits, the court is developing an emergency plan and integrating it with other county offices, Schutte said.

In the future, a new facility would also take into consideration housing for county services, such as the Clerk’s, Tax Assessor and Treasurer offices, Schutte said.

Any decision about the courthouse is years away.

And in the future if the 10th Judicial Court were relocated, Schutte said the courthouse would make an excellent library, outstanding building for a museum for WPA projects or Civilian Conservation Corps projects.