Funded by Senate Bill 1407
Initial Funding Year: FY 2009-2010
In Independence, the Court uses two buildings: the historic Inyo County Courthouse and the Department 2 facility. The Inyo County Courthouse is a neo-classical revival style building constructed in 1921, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Court shares this building with the County of Inyo, which owns the building.
The Department 2 facility, a few blocks from the main courthouse, was originally built as a church and is leased to provide a spare courtroom that is minimally ADA-compliant. Both facilities in Independence are overcrowded, physically deficient, and lack security features to current standards.
In Bishop, the Court operates a single courtroom, Department 4, in a city-owned facility. Because of the scheduling challenges a single courtroom in Bishop present, the Court occasionally must borrow the city's council chambers. This space is not always available.
The authorized project would provide a modern, secure courthouse for all case types. On April 29, 2011, the Judicial Council adopted the AOC's recommendation that the new courthouse be built in Bishop, so site selection in Bishop is under way. The Independence courthouse will remain open, and the Court will continue to provide services to the south county residents there.
Natomas Architects, Inc.
Construction Manager at Risk
To be selected, schedule TBD
What is the impact of the state’s current budget crisis on this project?
The state Budget Act for fiscal year 2011–2012 contained unprecedented cuts to the judicial branch budget in general and to the account that funds SB 1407 projects in particular. Taking account of the state’s continuing fiscal crisis, in April 2012 the Judicial Council approved cost-reduction measures affecting all projects funded by SB 1407. News release.
As a result, this project is being reassessed to explore and evaluate lease option opportunities. The reassessment will also evaluate lower-cost construction methods, with the goal of significantly reducing the project’s hard construction costs where that does not jeopardize the building’s safety, security, building performance, or court operations. At this time, the timeline for reassessment is not known, so the impact on the project’s overall schedule remains to be seen. Until the state Legislature resolves the budget for the coming fiscal year, any future impact on funding the next phases of this project is unknown. This web page will be updated with any changes.
What is happening on the Inyo Courthouse project now?
On April 29, 2011, the Judicial Council determined that the new courthouse will be located in Bishop and directed staff to proceed with site selection in that area. The AOC has retained a broker, who is surveying the market for prospective sites.
What is the Judicial Council? What is the AOC?
The Judicial Council is the policymaking body for the California court system, including the trial courts, known as “Superior Courts,” based in each county. The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) is the staff arm of the Judicial Council of California.
Why did the Judicial Council decide where the new court is built? Why isn't this a County decision?
Historically, trial courts functioned largely as County departments, but that changed in 2002, with passage of the Trial Court Facilities Act. This law made the State of California responsible for court facilities statewide, rather than the counties. The law gave the Judicial Council responsibility for facilities owned or occupied by the courts and made the AOC is responsible for operations, maintenance, and repairs, as well as site acquisition, planning, design, and construction of capital projects that replace or renovate courthouses. The AOC works closely with each affected Superior Court throughout the process of replacing or renovating courthouses, but ultimately the Judicial Council and the AOC have the fiduciary responsibility for courthouse construction projects. By Rules of Court, the AOC involves the public primarily through a Project Advisory Group, although depending on the needs of the project, the AOC also seeks direct public input at various stages.
In this case, the Administrative Director of the Courts, who heads the AOC, determined that the location of the New Inyo County Courthouse was controversial as defined by the Judicial Council’s Site Selection and Acquisition Policy for Judicial Branch Facilities. In accordance with this policy, the location decision was put before the Judicial Council for approval. Before that, the AOC analyzed the matter, solicited public comment on that analysis, and recommended the location in the Bishop area because it improves access to justice for the majority of Inyo County residents; approximately 80% of the county’s population, and most potential jurors, live in the Bishop area, and 75% of court filings originate from the Bishop area. These facts, coupled with the fact that court services will continue to be provided in Independence, were important factors in the Council’s decision.
How are court services currently delivered in Independence and Bishop?
With the exception of traffic citations, three-quarters of the Court’s criminal and other case filings originate in the Bishop area. Currently, the Court hears and decides cases on nearly a daily basis in both Independence and Bishop. There are three courtrooms in Independence—two in the Historic Courthouse and one in the leased facility that was secured by the County to provide an ADA-accessible courtroom in the county.
The Superior Court also operates out of the former Municipal Court located at the City Hall building in Bishop. There is only one courtroom in Bishop, and the clerk’s office has a limited ability to accept case filings due to space and personnel constraints. Consequently, the Court’s historic and consistent practice has been to require most unlimited civil, family, probate, and juvenile cases to be filed in Independence. Many of these types of cases are filed by self-represented litigants, who need trained staff assistance to file complex court documents. Court staff requires workspace and adequate public counter space to provide proper service to the public. Virtually all in-custody criminal and juvenile proceedings—including arraignments and felony trials—are heard in Independence due to the location of the County Jail and the County Juvenile Hall and the lack of a second courtroom in Bishop. Jury trials are held in Independence, with the exception of out-of-custody misdemeanor trials estimated to take two days or less, which are held in Bishop. This practice prevents delay to other court proceedings that would result if a lengthy jury trial were to occupy the sole Bishop courtroom.
What does the recent Judicial Council decision mean for court services in Independence?
The new courthouse will be built in Bishop, but the Court plans to maintain full service in Independence, providing all types of hearings and receiving all types of case filings for south county residents. The Court also expects to continue conducting in-custody proceedings in Independence to reduce County transportation costs and minimize delays and security concerns due to transporting prisoners. All other case types would continue to be heard in Independence as scheduled consistent with the Court’s current practice.
Who owns the Historic Courthouse in Independence?
While the Trial Court Facilities Act made the Judicial Council responsible for court facilities statewide, many courthouses, such as the Independence Courthouse, are shared-use facilities. Each agreement transferring title or responsibility for court-occupied space from the counties to the state was negotiated individually. Under the transfer agreement executed between the County of Inyo and the AOC, the County holds title to the Historic Courthouse, and the AOC has responsibility for the space occupied by the Court. Because the Court occupies only about a third of the space in the Historic Courthouse, the County is designated as the manager of this facility.
What will happen to the Historic Courthouse?
The court will continue to use the Historic Courthouse. The AOC and the Court are investigating whether improvements to access and security in the Historic Courthouse can be made to better provide court services in Independence. Some challenges to renovating the Historic Courthouse include the fact that the building is owned and managed by the County of Inyo, and therefore the AOC cannot use funds to complete a full renovation, including improvements to systems that serve the entire building (roof, exterior walls, seismic, electrical upgrade, heating plant upgrade). The AOC is working with the County on repairs to the heating and air-conditioning system and upgrades to the electrical system.
The AOC and the Court are also studying the cost and scope of a secure and accessible facility directly adjacent to the county jail in Independence. This option would improve security related to court proceedings involving in-custody defendants and reduce County expenses incurred in transporting prisoners.
What happened to all the planning that the County did for a new courthouse in Independence?
The County of Inyo was designing a new two-courtroom courthouse for Independence in 2003 to be sited at the old jail site at the corner of N. Edwards and Market Streets. The plans for this courthouse are site-specific and were not designed in compliance with current state building codes. The plans were also developed before the Judicial Council adopted the Trial Court Design Standards.
The county decided not to proceed with construction of the new courthouse due to the enactment of the Trial Court Facilities Act in 2002. Other California counties made similar decisions related to minor and major facilities improvements due to this legislation, which shifted responsibility from the counties to the state for all court facilities.
How can the state afford a new courthouse at all, given current state finances?
Inyo County is one of 34 counties slated to receive new or renovated court facilities funded by Senate Bill 1407, which was passed in 2008. The law created a statewide revenue stream from court fees, penalties, and assessments to finance courthouse construction and renovations, ensuring that these projects would be paid for from within the court system rather than drawing on the state's General Fund or local taxes. When projects near construction, the State will sell bonds for them, and the same revenue stream will repay those bonds over 35 years. This means that funds from other court jurisdictions will support Inyo County’s critical needs for many years to come.
A $30 million new courthouse for less than 30 thousand square feet sounds like a lot of money. What type of building does this budget envision?
The AOC budgets for modern, secure, safe courthouses that are highly functional, durable, sustainable, and maintainable. All of these factors contribute to cost—a courthouse is a more complex and expensive building than an office building or school. Also, the AOC’s project estimates include all costs of a building, such as the cost of the site, architecture and engineering services and environmental analysis, not just construction. The project estimate also factors in cost escalation that occurs over time. The construction budget for this project (without escalation, the cost of acquiring a site, and the costs associated with designing the building and furnishing it), is $652 per square foot. The AOC designs court buildings for durability—the building is expected to last at least 50 years and much longer with regular maintenance and upgrades to its systems. The AOC also factors in security features, such as blast resistance, that make court buildings more expensive than a typical office building.
The estimate for the Inyo project is based on two courtrooms within a building that would also include space for other services for which the Court currently lacks adequate space: jury assembly space and a deliberation room, a self-help center, family court mediation, a children’s waiting room, attorney interview/witness waiting rooms, and security entrance screening of all court users. In terms of appearance, the new building will appropriately reflect its civic importance.
Are County and Court going to join forces and share a new big building in Bishop?
The state funding for the new courthouse cannot be used on county facilities, so the AOC has not discussed a plan to build a shared facility in Bishop.
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