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March 15, 2014
Court system eyes a new home for the Fourth DCA

Secure software for judges to transmit orders also on the wish list

A new courthouse for the Fourth District Court of Appeal and software to allow judges to securely transmit orders to court clerks are among the revised budget requests the Florida court system is making to the Legislature this year.

State Courts Administrator Lisa Goodner said the adjusted budget numbers represent changes that have come to the Supreme Court’s attention since the original 2014-15 budget request was made on October 15. She noted it’s normal for the original request to be amended as the session approaches, because that request was made only three months into the current fiscal year.

The budget’s biggest item is for a new courthouse for the Fourth DCA.

Goodner noted the original request included $3 million for renovations and improvements to the 44-year-old building, including for security needs and to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“After the (October 15) submission process, the Fourth found mold in their courtroom and two adjacent rooms. They had to seal off the affected areas for about 10 weeks,” Goodner said.

That situation triggered a complete engineering review of the building, which found widespread moisture intrusion and confirmed that the building’s problematic heating and air-conditioning system (which had already received $270,000 worth of repairs over the past four years) was inadequate. The price tag now to fix the building: $7 million.

“At that point, the Fourth DCA got to thinking about other solutions than renovating a 44-year-old building,” Goodner said. “It would take $13.6 million to build a new building, including land acquisition. The assumption is that the land the current building is on could be sold by the state to help defray the costs of the new building.”

The court, which houses 12 judges and court staff, is now in an area with existing office and commercial use, which should make its three- to four-acre parcel valuable, she said. In addition, the court located suitable vacant state-owned land on the west side of downtown West Palm Beach near the existing federal courthouse as a possible new home, which would reduce the cost further.

“If you take those two other things, the potential that you could sell the land and you could build on state-owned land, the net cost of the building comes down significantly,” Goodner said. “The math just looks right to go and build a new building that would have all the benefits of upgraded efficiency.”

She added the new building would be the same size as the current 36,000-square-foot courthouse and allow room for expansion, because of space-saving anticipated in the ongoing changeover from paper to electronic files.

The budget request seeks $349,270 this year for planning and designs and $13.3 million for FY 2015-16 for construction.

Another major budget revision is $4.7 million for software to allow judges to securely transmit orders to court clerks in the new electronic court system being implemented. Goodner noted the issue is a priority with the Legislature, along with improving the current paper system, in light of two inmates erroneously released from a North Florida prison after falsified documents were slipped into the paperwork system.

“Everyone agrees that electronic transmission is the way to make it most secure,” Goodner said.

The other amended budget requests are for $953,999 for furnishings for new courthouses in the First, Fourth, 14th, and 17th circuits, with most of that earmarked for the 17th, and $81,427 for a program begun last year that allows video conferencing for court interpreters.

Goodner said video conferencing has proved far superior to telephone conferencing for interpreters and reduces overall costs for interpreters.

[Revised: 09-18-2014]