“The court will now come to order. I’ve been waiting a long time to say that,” said the Hon. Lloyd L. Hicks, Presiding Judge of the Superior Court of Tulare County, just prior to asking people to find their seats at Monday morning’s dedication ceremony of the South County Justice Center — Porterville’s new courthouse. “This is a time of celebration for the community.”
Attended by numerous city, county, state and other dignitaries, a large crowd gathered at the new $93.4 million courthouse at 300 E. Olive.
The dedication began with the presentation of colors by the Tulare County Sheriff’s Department, a welcome by Hicks, remarks by Administrative Director of the Courts, Hon. Steven Jahr; LaRayne Cleek, Court Executive Officer; and the Hon. Glade F. Roper, retired judge. It also included a ribbon-cutting ceremony, a reception and tours to the public of the new courthouse.
“I’m incredibly pleased to have this wonderful facility available to the citizens of the county and particularly of the South County,” Hicks said during his welcome.
Jahr talked about the duties of the AOC, Administrative Office of the Courts, and offered information on the design and construction of new courthouses and on determining the need for new courthouses — Porterville’s being one of them.
In 2003, it was determined that Porterville was in desperate need of a new courthouse, Jahr said, with the funding authorized in 2007, the site purchased in 2009, and ground breaking in February 2012 — and all of it accomplished without any general-fund money.
“We have a fine building completed and ready to open to the public,” Jahr said. “We’re doing everything possible to minimize the impact of the state budget cuts on the court system.”
But the new courthouse was still affected, he said, citing judgeships that were approved but have not been funded, curtailed services and reduced hours to the public.
“This courthouse, literally and figuratively, is at the center of the community,” he said as he congratulated all of the individuals who were instrumental in the successful completion of the program. “Today’s dedication exemplifies that.”
Those budget cuts mean the courthouse will open with just four judges instead of six and the entire third floor will not be utilized.
Cleek, who has been with the Court for more than 40 years and is the current Chief Executive Officer running the administration, also offered a few words, saying that the old courthouse had been outgrown.
“Many believed this facility would not be built. [However,] the job was done on time, and under budget,” she said and also continued with thanking anyone involved in the project — from the ironmen who worked on the iron works to the volunteers helping at the dedication. “Everyone of you has left your handprint upon this project. This is an exciting time in Tulare County.”
Retired Judge Glade Roper spoke last, informing the large crowd that a lot of what should have happened, was not going to happen — due to budget issues.
“We’ve lost three clerks since August,” he said about the cutbacks. “There’s very little in the building that is not absolutely functional.”
The water feature in the courtyard, a large mosaic of the Sierra Nevada, and aerial photographs of the Porterville area on two large walls, Roper said, were the only components of the building that did not serve a function.
He praised the courthouse’s new walk-up windows, calling them a brainchild of Cleek. The windows, which are available from the courtyard, prevent people from needing to go through security for simple court transactions. People will be able to take a number and wait to be called. Nine more walk up windows are inside, as well.
Roper also offered an overview of what the inside of the courthouse looks like and what potential jurors can expect.
“Up until now, and for the past 24 years, we had to stand like sardines,” he said, naming the numerous people, from the district attorney, prosecuting attorney, police officers, and witnesses, who also shared the space. Roper described the new jury assembly room and its four areas — the lounge, desks, patio and quiet room.
He also talked about doing away with the need for jurors from the South County to travel to Visalia for jury duty — a move that will save the potential jurors $1 million in time away from work and one million miles of travel.
“The most important part of the building itself is the courtroom,” Roper said.
He went on to describe the public areas, the open, aerial feel to the courthouse, and praised the Judges’ bench placed at a corner to the courtroom, showing support to the judges and an appreciation of the law.
“It’s a marvelous day for the people of Tulare County, particularly those in the South,” Roper said before returning the podium to Hicks, who in turn, moved the celebration to the ribbon-cutting ceremony.