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Columbia County panel: Seek cheaper courtroom solutions

September 6, 2018
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Columbia County Circuit Court Judge W. Andrew Voigt's stand in his courtroom during the grand opening event in August.

Before Columbia County officials spend an additional $43,000 on its just-completed building project, members of the County Board’s Information Services and Property Committee want to explore alternatives.

Management Information Services Director David Drews told the panel on Wednesday that the three Columbia County Circuit Court judges have requested changes, in all three juried courtrooms, in the placement of in-floor mechanisms used by attorneys during jury trials for sound amplification and usage of the courtrooms’ audio-visual equipment.

At the committee’s request, Drews obtained a price quote for construction, labor and equipment: a little more than $43,573.

But county officials won’t decide whether to spend the money – and whether it should be included in the $46 million building project or paid for from the county’s general fund as part of the 2019 budget – until less costly alternatives are explored.

Among those alternatives, is the use of wireless microphones, said Supervisor Bruce Rashke of the town of Wyocena, the committee’s acting chairman.

“My gut says we should explore other options before we spend nearly 50 grand on this,” Rashke said.

The committee voted unanimously to delay a decision on the matter.

Rashke said the problem emerged after the courthouse remodeling was completed and trials began to be held in the refurbished branch courtrooms. The issue only emerges during jury trials, he said.

According to Drews, the wiring and mechanisms for microphones and AV equipment were designed to be placed under the tables where prosecuting and defense attorneys and defendants sit during trials.

But, when it became apparent that juries could not see the attorneys or the defendant during the proceedings, the tables were moved back, leaving the mechanisms in the floor in front of the tables. Attorneys have run cords and wires from the mechanisms to use the microphones and audio-visual equipment, but Drews said an attorney walking around the courtroom could trip over them.

Supervisor Kirk Konkel of Portage, who was chairman of the recently disbanded Ad Hoc Building Committee, said the placement of the mechanisms was one of many issues discussed at great length with the judges before the courthouse remodeling began last summer.

“What we put in is exactly what they wanted,” Konkel said.

Rashke said this is not an issue of the design and construction being done incorrectly, but rather an issue that became apparent only when the remodeled courtrooms began to be used.

If that’s the case, then the cost of moving the mechanisms back under the relocated tables should not be charged to the already-overspent building project, but rather incorporated into the county’s budget, said County Board Chairman Vern Gove.

Konkel expressed concern about the possibility that other department heads might want changes in their facilities after they already agreed to particular specifications, and going to the Information Services and Property Committee to see changes.

“Now we’re getting all this stuff coming back – ‘It’s not right, it’s not right,’ ” Konkel said.

If the judges or any other department heads want changes in the new or remodeled buildings, they should come to the Information Services and Property Committee, with documentation as to why the changes are needed, Konkel said. None of the three judges was at Wednesday’s meeting.

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