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Chief Justice offers his support

August 22, 2012

Pictured: front row, from left, Jerry Adams, Director of Dispute Resolution Mediation Debora Brownyard, Chief Justice Heavican, State Court Administrator Janice Walker, County Supervisor Ran Varney; back row, Chief Justice PIO Janet Bancroft, John Sennett, Mike Borders, Jason White, CEDC member RJ Thomas, Supervisor Don McCullough, Supervisor Mark Haynes, Supervisor Larry Hickenbottom, Task Force Chair Juliana Jenkins, and CEDC Director Melissa Garcia.

Just two days after presenting a proposal to the Custer County Board of Supervisors, a CEDC task force made nearly the same presentation for a new judicial center to Chief Justice Mike Heavican.

In an open meeting on the Custer College campus, task force chairperson Juliana Jenkins went over plans, preliminary architectural drawings and options for the construction of a judicial center in Broken Bow. The proposal is to build the center on the Custer Campus.

Broken Bow attorney John Sennett, who is not a member of the task force but has been very involved in the discussions, gave an overview of the initial discussions that led to the development of this plan. He outlined for the Chief Justice some of the issues facing the current courthouse - most notably a lack of space, lack of parking and lack of security.

“The concern is for possible future consolidation of the court system,” Sennett explained. “If Custer County doesn’t refurbish its court facility, and if consolidation should ever occur, our concern is we would get skipped.”

“I don’t believe in that process personally,” Sennett continued. “But the future is the future, and we have to move forward.”

Though the task force is thinking in terms of the future, the main push toward a new court facility is current need.

“Our task was to come up with a plan that would meet the needs of Custer County today,” said Jenkins.

Four members of the Custer County Board of Supervisors, members of the Custer Economic Development Corporation, and several local attorneys sat in on the presentation Aug. 16.

Jenkins explained the two options for location of the new facility - one option being the already developed property on the west side of the college, the other being the yet undeveloped property to the west of that. The estimated cost of the two locations is $3.9 million for the developed property, and $4.1 million for the undeveloped property.

The plan for the new judicial center derived by architect Larry Nelson, calls for a 16,800-square-foot facility. It would include two clerk offices, two court rooms, a library, two judges chambers, two multi purpose rooms, a meeting room for the County Board of Supervisors, and two smaller meeting rooms. The rest of the offices located in the courthouse, such as treasurer, register of deeds, assessor, etc., would remain in the current courthouse.

The multi-purpose rooms of the new facility could also be available for public meetings. The court rooms and judges chambers would be secured, where currently they are not. The facility would be more accessible to everyone as it would all be on one level.

The main purpose of the library area, Jenkins explained, is to provide a space for those who cannot afford an attorney and wish to represent themselves. This area would offer those individuals access to information and provide computer terminals for them to work on.

Jenkins and Sennett both conveyed to the Chief Justice their strong desire to make the legal system in Broken Bow readily accessible to everyone, while maintaining safety for all those involved and the general public. Jenkins explained that the two smaller meeting rooms in the plan would be used for such things as attorneys conferring with clients, or for conferences during family matters.

Sennett noted that because of the lack of security at the present courthouse, Broken Bow is unable to host an appellate court - something he hopes would change with this new facility.

“The type of consolidation we’re talking about is already happening,” said Jason White, Broken Bow City Attorney. “Health and Human Services in Broken Bow serves the counties around us, the State Patrol here in town is serving other counties. So incrementally, I believe it has already started.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, Chief Justice Heavican addressed the group; “As you are all aware, court systems here in Nebraska were all funded locally, with a big part of the expense being personnel. A lot of that has now shifted to the state level. We have a great partnership at the local level, and when we see a community that is willing to invest in that it is very positive.”

“Everybody is tip-toeing around the subject of reorganization,” Heavican continued. “But it is inevitable that it is going to happen, and I’m glad you recognize that. We will be supportive of you on that.”

“I am pleased to see it is something the whole community can use, not just the courts,” said Janice Walker, Nebraska Supreme Court State Court Administrator. “It is very nice to have communities approach us in the early stages and allow us to be involved.”

Justice Heavican added that he sees the court system in Custer County being pretty secure, as proven by the fact that Judge Washburn has been replaced here rather than somewhere else.

Jenkins added that we can expect to see a continual increase in family and juvenile court type situations that require mediation, and this new facility will provide the much needed space for that the current courthouse does not. She also noted that the Supreme Court has security requirements for prisoners accessing the court systems, and this plan accommodates that.

Larry Hickenbottom, chairman of the Custer County Board of Supervisors, reminded the group that the courthouse is 100 years old, and the court system just doesn’t work well there anymore. He said he believes the board supports the new plan.

County Supervisor Don McCullough asked the Lincoln group is the Chief Justice office has available funds to help with the project.

“We are certainly available to take about the technology,” said Walker with a smile.

“We hope we will get an invitation to the grand opening,” Walker chimed.

Jenkins quickly responded, “Oh, you can count on it!”

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