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County working on plan to accommodate new judges

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By AJ Vicens

Jeffco is in the process of hiring a consulting firm to determine how to accommodate two new judges by July 1, and it may require a reworking of space in the government center.

"One thing we're telling the architectural construction firms to do is look at all the space, and we're literally telling them that nothing is sacred," said County Administrator Jim Moore. "If it makes sense to convert the whole building into a courthouse, and move administrative (functions) somewhere else, we may entertain that."

The state legislature mandated last year that Jeffco have one more district judge and one more county court judge by July 1, and two additional district judges and another county court judge by July 2009. The state pays the salaries of the judges and some staff, but the county bears the costs of additional security, prosecutors and space to house the judges, of which there is precious little left.

There are 27 courtrooms at the Taj Mahal — 12 district, seven county and eight magistrate, with the same number of each type of judge.

The county has narrowed the search for the consultant to two firms that blend court planning and architectural expertise to best utilize the space. Deputy County Administrator Nanette Neelan said not to expect wholesale changes at the government center, but the county must find ways to accommodate the judges without much new construction.

"With the county's fiscal situation being what it is, the county doesn't have money for that," Neelan said, referring to massive construction add-ons. "Our charge is to look at all the alternatives. I would hate to see us invest millions and two years later say, 'We should have done this, or done that.' It's crystal-balling with an educated component."

Neelan would not say how much it will cost just to pay the firm to come up with a plan, citing ongoing negotiations. In a few weeks, a solid figure should emerge.

Neelan said last October that she wanted to have a plan in place by early 2008, and considering it's now early February 2008, is Jeffco where she wanted it to be in the planning process?

"We're still on track," Neelan said. "It's an aggressive schedule, but I think there's a willingness for all stakeholders to be at that table and find solutions."

She and Moore said the new judges will hit the ground running in July, something that Chief District Judge Brooke Jackson hopes is true.

"From my standpoint, July 1 is going to be here before we know it," Jackson said. He said the county is working with him on the issue, and has taken an idea he submitted for the short term under advisement. "But as of today, there is still no concrete plan approved by the county."

Contact AJ Vicens at aj@evergreenco.com, and check www.columbinecourier for updates and breaking news.