A New Kaufman County Courthouse?

Kaufman county needs a new courthouse. Why? First, the current building is too small to handle the growing population. The courthouse was designed for two courtrooms, but now houses four courts. There are no public restrooms upstairs, no attorney client meeting area anywhere (we use the very narrow and cramped hallways) the government offices are beyond cramped, the security area with the metal detectors was an ad hoc development that creates a pedestrian bottleneck for jurors, the law library is also the felony jury deliberation room etc, etc.

Another reason to embrace change is the courthouse’s complete lack of aesthetic appeal. This sad blue cube doesn’t evoke traditional Texas courthouse grandeur like say, the Ellis county courthouse. On the contrary, Kaufman’s courthouse recently doubled as a mental hospital for a tv pilot (starring Dylan McDermott, it was never picked up).

It’s one thing for lawyers to complain, it’s another to generate voter support. The voters have spoken before, and soundly rejected spending their tax dollars on a new courthouse. Undeterred, the county commissioners may have found a way to build a new courthouse without voter approval- certificates of obligation. Tread carefully here pols.

According to Thomas M. Pollan, an attorney for the Austin-based firm of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta, the county has four funding options available, but of those only three are advisable and only one would allow for a more expedient construction schedule…
“Of those, issuing general obligation bonds would require an election, which would not be able to placed on a ballot until November. Certificates of obligation would require publishing intent in the newspaper and a 30-day waiting period.”

From what I’ve been told, certificates of obligation can be spent on “law enforcement” buildings without voter approval. Why? Traditionally, voters have been less than receptive to using tax dollars to build new digs for criminals. Makes sense. (Note: This is conjecture, I don’t have time to research the government code to verify).

The county jail is off 175 in a field of mesquite trees, completely disconnected from the rest of the town. Moving the criminal courts to that location would save the county thousands in transportation costs. Right now jail chain inmates are carried over in vans required multiple deputies. Building a new jail is expensive, but so is government inmate taxi service.

Local attorneys are nervous that such a move would “kill the square.” They may be right. But that ship sailed when the new jail was built so far from downtown. It’s inevitable that the courthouse is going to move and part of the legal culture on the square will be lost. Such is progress.


One response to “A New Kaufman County Courthouse?”

  1. A.H. Jordan says:

    Robert, two thoughts. First, we keep using the phrase, “kill the square.” Over half the buildings are vacant, with one of the largest putting up a “for sale” sign yesterday. If the square isn’t already dead it damned sure ain’t feeling very well.

    Second, I’m staying out of the build/don’t build fray because I can respect both sides of the argument. My biggest beef w/ the current setup is that the prosecutor’s counsel table abuts the jury box in two of the courtrooms. We should start objecting on the record to this. I think even the Dallas Court of Affirms would be offended by juries having inadmissible evidence passed around in plain view under their noses. Just a thought.

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