Momentum For A Justice Center

One month ago I wrote in this space of the desperate need for a new justice center to house our courts for the 21st century. As noted in that column, the City-County Building was built 40 years ago as a government office building with several tucked-away courts. Caseloads were modest, security was an afterthought, and no dramatic increases in civil or criminal litigation were anticipated.

Today, however, there are 32 courts squeezed into an antiquated office building originally designed for 16, an increase of 100%. In addition, more than 60 judicial officers are attempting to manage more than 240,000 new cases filed each year, including nearly 3,000 major felonies annually and almost 40,000 total criminal cases annually. (And more judges are needed!). Public safety, justice, and dignity are all compromised by the current court facilities.

Since the time of that column several significant developments have occurred giving momentum to the efforts for a new justice center. First, the IBA/MCBA Justice Center Task Force has progressed further and has begun its external public relations efforts to advocate for this important project. You will be seeing and hearing much more about that campaign in the near future.

Second, the Justice Center Task Force submitted a spotlight letter to the editor at the Star, which was published by the Star unredacted on Sunday, September 29. See www.indystar.com/article.php?eletmaley29.html. We have received positive feedback from many circles as a result.

Third, in two different public safety editorials the Star mentioned the possibility of a new justice center as a possible solution to some of the public safety issues facing this community.

Fourth, on October 1 the Indianapolis Star and WTHR 13 hosted a public safety forum attended by 150 people. Panelists included many IBA members, such as Presiding Judge Cynthia Ayres, Judge Mark Stoner, Judge Bill Young, Prosecutor Scott Newman, and Public Defender Dave Cook. Each discussed the many public safety issues facing our criminal justice system, and several described the need for a justice center to conduct our judicial business with dignity, efficient, and in safety. Many other IBA and MCBA members were also in attendance in the audience, including other judges and members of the Justice Center Task Force.

Fifth, within the Bar and the community at large, people are beginning to take notice of the serious issues facing our justice system. In response to the Justice Center Task Force’s early activities, for instance, many lawyers, elected officials, and citizens have echoed our concerns and offered their support and assistance.

What Can You Do? With the active support of the IBA’s 4,000 members, we can and will make a difference in the quest for improvements to our local justice system. Many parts of that system are in need of additional funding, to be sure, and the IBA is not solely focused on a justice center. But a new justice center is critical to our delivery of justice in an efficient, dignified, and safe manner.

We need your help. Please become informed of the issues. As we present programs on this topic, please attend. For instance, on November 25 at noon we will have a Justice Center Forum at the IBA. Talk with your neighbors and friends about the importance of these issues. Write letters to the editor of local papers. Support your City Council and the Mayor’s office as they tackle the financial issues.

In short, please be an advocate for this important project. We need your support.

John Maley practices with Barnes & Thornburg. He can be reached at jmaley@btlaw.com.