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State office steps in to review court site

September 29, 2010

It may be another six months before state officials decide where to build a new $30 million court facility in Inyo County.
Representatives from Inyo County Superior Court announced last week that the Administrative Offices of the Court, which has the final say on where the new facility will be located, will conduct its own “comprehensive review” of the options that are available for site selection for the new facility.
The AOC has asked Presiding Judge Brian Lamb to hold off on making his recommendation on where to build the new facility until it has completed its review.
“Both the courts and the AOC have become aware of the degree of controversy surrounding site selection and felt it was important to take a closer look at this,” said Teresa Ruano, public information officer with the AOC.
The AOC’s process will include a review of both principal location options (Bishop or Independence) based primarily on its own independent review of court facility needs within Inyo County, the AOC told local court officials in a statement.
“AOC staff will then recommend a location for the new courthouse to the administrative director of the courts with a further recommendation that, due to the range of points of view on this matter, location of the new courthouse should be considered a controversial site,” a press release from the AOC states.
If the administrative director of the courts decides that the location of this project is a “controversial” site, as defined in AOC site selection policy, the issue may be referred to the Judicial Council for a final decision, Ruano said.
If site selection is referred to the Judicial Council, the AOC will publish a draft recommendation for formal public comment and local citizens will once again be invited to comment. All comments received at that point will be recorded into the public record, Ruano said.
Thus far, no official record of comments has been kept by local court officials.
“This is not something we expected,” Lamb said of the AOC conducting its own review. “They have basically taken over the whole process. I will make a recommendation to the AOC, but I don’t know what form the input will take.”
Ruano said Lamb’s recommendation will be considered after the AOC has completed its review of site selection.
Since March, Judge Lamb and other administrators with Inyo County Superior Court have engaged in a series of public meetings throughout the county to hear where residents would like to see the new court facility constructed.
During those meetings it was clear that the majority of the vocal public was in favor of having the new court facility built in Independence.
Residents have said that building the facility in Bishop would force potential jurors from the southern reaches of the county to travel virtually all the way across the county to perform their civic duty.
There have also been concerns that, should the courts build a new facility in Bishop rather than Independence, the few businesses operating in the county seat would lose daily business from court employees who would be transferred to Bishop.
Citizens also expressed concerns that constructing the new facility in Bishop would force the Inyo County Sheriff’s Department to transport more prisoners out of Independence for court dates.
Lamb has said that residents in Southern Inyo communities such as Olancha and Tecopa are exempt from jury duty if they wish to be. Lamb also said that, no matter where the new facility is built, the courts will continue to make all efforts to try in-custody prisoners in Independence to avoid additional prisoner transport costs to the Sheriff’s Department.
As far as the number of court employees who would be moved out of Independence to serve in the new Bishop facility, Judge Lamb has said there is a possibility that one or two court employees who work in Independence may be transferred to the new facility if it is built in Bishop, but he added that court employees often travel between the two current facilities, and would continue to do so wherever the new courthouse is built.
The AOC said its site selection process could take up to six months.
“At this time we don’t have any additional public meetings planned,” Ruano said, “but we are encouraging residents to comment.”
Anyone who would like to make comments to the AOC on the courthouse site selection may do so by emailing or mailing comments to the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Offices of the Court, 455 Golden Gate Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102-3688.

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