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Seeking a new courthouse

Crook County leaders are hoping to build a new facility to house its circuit court, jury courtrooms and district attorney's office


Photo Credit: KEVIN SPERL - At 105 years of age, the Crook County Courthouse is past its prime, leaving county leaders looking for a new venue to hosue courtrooms and county criminal justice offices. The historic building would still be used for other county office purposes even if a new courthouse is built.The iconic Crook County Courthouse has stood for the past 105 years as the centerpiece of Prineville.

For decades, it has housed a variety of government agencies from administration and planning to circuit court and the district attorney’s office.

However, the building has long since passed its prime, and when it comes to housing courtrooms and county criminal justice offices, it simply doesn’t measure up. Consequently, county leaders are looking for a new venue.

“We have one jury courtroom in Crook County and we only do jury trials, because we have other things going on, two weeks a month,” said Crook County District Attorney Daina Vitolins. “So that means you wait a long time to get a case tried. For example, we are setting cases out to September and October that are probably going to be continued because we have older cases that need to be tried.”

Vitolins said that criminal cases take priority in jury trials, so some civil cases are two to three years old before they go to trial.

“Access to justice and speedy resolution of your legal matters is not only a constitutional requirement, but it is how we should run our justice system,” she said.

The only other courtroom in the courthouse is Courtroom B, which Vitolins said will only hold about 15 people plus the witness. She added that because the people are “right on top of each other,” it can create a security risk.

“I would love to have at least two jury courtrooms with the possibility of expanding to four,” she said. “That would be optimal.”

Another concern raised by Vitolins and Crook County Commissioner Ken Fahlgren is courthouse security.

“When you look at what’s happening across the United States and the shootings that are happening, correct courthouses are really more like an airport,” Fahlgren said. “We don’t have any real security.”

Vitolins agreed noting that the Deschutes County Courthouse features an entrance with a full metal detector, two deputies that screen items, and deputies that roam from courtroom to courtroom.

“Our courthouse is completely open,” she said.

Vitolins and Fahlgren currently sit on the Association of Oregon Counties court facilities task force. They are hoping to receive some state funding in the 2015-17 biennium to apply to construction of a new courthouse.

Fahlgren explained that an Oregon chief justice is asking the State Legislature for $35 million for the budget cycle. About $17.5 million will go to Multnomah and Jefferson counties to help complete construction of new courthouses.

He said that the remaining funds would go to four other counties, with Crook County receiving as much as $2 million.

“We were listed 40th out of 46 courthouses as the worst in the state,” Fahlgren said.

While the goal is to build a new courthouse, Fahlgren stressed that the existing one will not go away or end up vacant. Instead, other county services would be brought in to occupy the unused courtrooms and offices, while other departments would continue to inhabit the historic facility.

“We are not going to gut or change the building at all,” he said.



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