New Washtenaw County District Court, jail addition officially opened

By Frank Weir

Legal News

''The People's House,'' that is, the new Washtenaw County 14A District Court facility, was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and numerous visitors at its Hogback Road location.

The structure replaces the court's former home on the same property, a building that originally served as a Catholic seminary. That will be demolished eventually according to Court Administrator Gene DeRossett.

Also, an addition to the Washtenaw County Jail was a part of the building plan that began with a groundbreaking ceremony in December of 2008. Architecture and engineering firm TowerPinkster designed the project while the construction firm utilized was Clark Construction.

Other 14A court branches include those in downtown Ypsilanti, in Chelsea, and in Saline.

The Friday ceremony was hosted by 14a District Court Chief Judge Kirk Tabbey along with Judge Richard Conlin and Judge J. Cedric Simpson.

Keynote speaker was Michigan Supreme Court Justice Robert Young.

Young noted that district court ''Really is the people's house.

''I'm not surprised at the advanced technology here in this new court. It is the prototype of the 21st century courthouse,'' Young added.

''It has been a remarkable transformation to this from the traditions of the quill pen.

''We think of courthouses as grand and lasting. But we forget that the first courthouses were quite humble. Court was first held in private homes or taverns.

''But we see a change when America gained its independence. Our law now came from the Constitution recognizing the sovereignty of the people and protecting individual freedoms and limiting the power of government.

''Therefore, there was a change in the design of the courthouse. In the quest for appropriate symbolism, courthouses began to be constructed like Greek temples, Italian villas or European cathedrals.

''Courthouses in this era didn't house the court alone but were part of a general building along with other governmental offices.''

Young noted that as they became crowded over time, courts began to add courtrooms in buildings that had not been intended to be utilized as such.

He went on to note that, ''The courthouse is the people's building. They come here with their problems. Through the doors come crime victims and those accused of crimes; families in turmoil; businesses large and small. Disputes are resolved, rights adjudicated, and violence punished.

''Courts are witness to the worst of human nature but also of humanity's determination that good will and the rule of law should prevail.

''We want our buildings and institutions to last and both require care and feeding. Sometimes we take the legal system for granted. In reality, it's a living thing and can perish through abuse and neglect. The American rule of law is not impervious from attack. It requires vigilant protection.

''May this fine building serve the community well. I'd like to think that a century from now this building and our Democracy will still be in good shape. I hope so,'' Young concluded.

Representatives of TowerPinkster, and Clark Construction noted that the jail addition is an example of a ''podular jail.''

According to the InformeDesign website, linear jails are rectangular with cells along corridors. Corrections officers monitor inmates by walking along the corridors intermittently while podular jails organize cells in housing units centered around dayrooms, allowing the inmates somewhat "normal" living areas.

In podular, indirect supervision jails, correctional officers supervise from a booth.

In podular, direct supervision jails, inmates interact directly with correctional officers trained in interpersonal communication and conflict management.

Richard Bromfield, with TowerPinkster, noted that, ''In podular jails, inmates are not separated by bars. Linear jails sometimes produce conditions we don't like and they are not a way to treat human beings.

''As you go through the addition, you will see a marked difference in correctional philosophy and management practice.

''Washtenaw County deserves accolades for moving the ball forward in its judicial practices. It is breaking new ground in correctional practice and direct supervision thereby improving social justice,'' Bromfield said.

Tabbey concluded the event by saying that, ''We needed something the people could rely on. Judge Conlin and Judge Simpson did all the legwork on this project early on. I offer much thanks to both.

''We had a lot of things to do with this project and I want to thank the entire staff for all their efforts. Everyone has been remarkable to work with. Thanks to everyone for all the work they put in to get us here. We will make sure that when we come into this new 14a District Court facility, that justice will be done,'' Tabbey said.

Others speaking briefly at the event not already mentioned included Gene DeRossett, Judge Donald Shelton, Washtenaw County Administrator Verna McDaniel; Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners Chairman Rolland Sizemore, Jr.; board member Kristin Judge; Pittsfield Township Supervisor Mandy Grewal; and Chad Riehl, Clark Construction.

Published: Thu, Aug 5, 2010