Indianapolis Star


Questions Stymie Plan for New Courts Facility

November 29, 2005
By Richard D. Walton

A measure urging the City-County Council to study the need for a new courts building went nowhere Monday when members of the council -- and the mayor -- questioned the proposal.

Mayor Bart Peterson fretted that the resolution before the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council went beyond mere study and committed the city to spend money to hire architects. measure urging the City-County Council to study the need for a new courts building went nowhere Monday when members of the council -- and the mayor -- questioned the proposal.

Mayor Bart Peterson fretted that the resolution before the Marion County Criminal Justice Planning Council went beyond mere study and committed the city to spend money to hire architects.

City-County Council President Steve Talley, a Democrat who is a member of the Planning Council, said he believed the matter required further study before going to legislators. Another Planning Council member, City-County Council Minority Leader Philip Borst, a Republican, wondered aloud how the new center could be justified when the city is just "scraping by'' financially.

The planning panel's chairman, Marion Superior Court Judge Cale Bradford, postponed a vote on the resolution. The matter will be taken up again next month.

The proposal was made by the Justice Center Task Force, a group of attorneys from the Indiana and Marion County bar associations. The group argues the building that currently houses the criminal courts, the City-County Building, is cramped and outdated. The conditions, the group maintains, put residents -- including witnesses and crime victims -- in harm's way.

Each year, about 70,000 prisoners are taken under police supervision to areas in the building. This puts them in close proximity with the roughly half a million residents who enter the building for government business, says a task force report released Monday.

Costs for a new building could range from $79 million to $195 million, depending on whether other offices -- such as civil courts -- eventually are housed in the center.

The report lists possibilities for raising money, such as boosting court filing fees or using revenue from the county option income tax. The report also suggests there would be savings if agencies now renting space from private landlords could move into City-County Building offices emptied when criminal courts move out.

One potential site: property north of the Marion County Jail already owned by the city. The report says putting courts closer to the jail would make it easier to bring prisoners back and forth and increase security.

More security is long overdue, Bradford said. He said that as a judge, he has sentenced defendants to jail while they sat just a few feet away from him.

"One of these days, something terrible might happen in this building," he said.

Thirty years ago, something did. In 1975, a defendant accused of fatally beating his father-in-law was shot to death in a Marion County courtroom.

This year, a defendant in an Atlanta criminal case fatally shot the judge, then continued his rampage before being caught.

In a presentation made during the Planning Council hearing Monday, former Indianapolis Bar Association President John Maley called the City-County Building situation "a disaster waiting to happen."