County commissioners approved a plan Monday that will make space for a fifth district judge at the judicial building.
The wait for a hearing or trial in Douglas County courtrooms should get shorter by July.
County commissioners on Monday approved a remodeling project for the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th, that will make room for an additional courtroom capable of accommodating a 12-person jury.
"With five judges, you can spread out the docket," Linda Koester-Vogelsang, court administrator, said. "It's delayed now ... because we only have three courtrooms to hold 12-member juries."
Speedier justice comes with a cost to taxpayers. At budget time, commissioners set aside $350,000 for the renovation project, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said.
Architects estimated the renovation could cost as much as $424,000. Weinaug will hammer out financing details and report back to commissioners in a week.
"The Douglas County District Court is the busiest court in the state," he said. As such, the county successfully lobbied the Legislature for a fifth division judge. "Now we are scrambling to meet our obligation to provide the courtroom."
Administrative Judge Mike Malone said the state's judicial budget, which provides funds for the new judge, will take effect July 1, pending Gov. Finney's signature.
The process recently used to find a replacement for retiring District Judge James Paddock will be used to nominate candidates for the new position.
A local nominating panel would nominate two or three recommendations, and the governor would have the final say.
Malone said that process, which hasn't yet started, could have a judge appointed and ready to hear cases soon after July 1.
Architects said the bid process for the remodeling project alone should take about six to eight weeks.
Other proposed renovations to the judicial building include:
- Making space for a new municipal courtroom in a space now used for record storage. Because of a heavy municipal docket load, Weinaug will approach city officials about the possibility of moving the court to a city building.
- Expanding a hearing room that can be used for small claims court and juvenile hearings. The move will change the configuration of the court clerk's office and eliminate a smaller hearing room.