Courthouse lacks space to serve Clackamas County citizens effectively
Clackamas County's circuit courthouse was built in 1936. Since then, the county's population has grown to nearly eight times its size, yet the size of our county courthouse has remained the same.
For many people, this means long delays for custody cases, divorces and other important legal matters.
The courthouse was originally built to house one courtroom. We now have 11 courtrooms crammed into every nook and cranny. We don't have enough judges to serve our community simply because our courthouse is too small.
Approximately 12 percent of Clackamas County criminal cases in 2018 were reset because we did not have enough judges to try them. (Of those cases that were reset, none of the defendants were in custody.)
Forty-eight scheduled criminal trials did not happen this year just because there were not enough courtrooms to hear them. Victims and witnesses often have to take additional days off from work for additional trial dates.
The Oregon Judicial Department outlines required guidelines regarding disposition of civil, criminal and juvenile cases. Clackamas County is unable to meet those requirements due to a lack of physical space.
Crowded courtroom confines are a safety concern. In many of our courtrooms, witnesses are forced to walk in the 1-2 feet between the end of the table where the defendant is sitting and the wall in order to get to the witness stand.
Many times, the defendant is so close to the witness that they could reach out and touch them as they walk past, a chilling thought for many witnesses testifying in sexual assault, domestic violence or violent criminal cases.
Our judges accomplish an astounding amount of work with our limited resources. While we do the best we can to try the most pressing cases as quickly as possible, our current Band-Aid fixes to our lack of space is not a long-term solution.
Clackamas County residents deserve to have enough judges to adequately serve our population. You deserve to have all cases heard in a timely manner — felony cases, civil cases, small claims cases and residential landlord tenant cases. You deserve a safe, modern courthouse that can serve the needs of all of our residents.
Kathie F. Steele is Clackamas County's presiding judge.