New Municipal Courthouse gains much-needed space

EVERETT — It’s like the leap from the telegraph to an iPhone.

That’s how one local attorney described the difference between the old Everett Municipal Courthouse and the shiny, new building, which opened its doors for business earlier this month.

“It’s that big of an improvement,” Marysville attorney Brian Ashbach said. “It’s probably the nicest courthouse I’ve been in in a long time.”

Everett Municipal Court Judge Timothy O’Dell called the new courthouse beautiful and “something the city should be proud of.”

“Nobody wanted to spend this kind of money, but this is something that had to be done,” O’Dell said.

Replacing the municipal court had been subject to much debate over the years. City officials had floated more than a dozen proposals to move or rebuild the courthouse.

Located at the corner of Wetmore and Pacific avenues, the busy city courthouse had grown more cramped as the number of cases the court handles ballooned. In 2009, the last year statistics were available, the court processed 5,800 criminal filings, such as DUIs, domestic violence assault and prostitution. There also were about 11,000 traffic infractions and 25,000 parking tickets.

Courtrooms often were so jam-packed that people stood outside in the hall, waiting for judges to call their names. With no place for private conversations, lawyers found themselves conferring with their clients in hushed voices in any available nook and cranny.

“It was like a madhouse,” Ashbach said.

Judges often had to stop hearings as the overcrowded courtrooms grew too loud for officials to hear what was being said.

The court was limited to one jury trial a day because there was only one cramped jury deliberation room.

The City Council in 2011 approved a construction contract to rebuild the courthouse just northwest of the old building. Workers broke ground in September 2011 on the $8.35 million project. Court staff began moving into the new building Dec. 14.

The 17,000-square-foot new courthouse is three times larger than the old building. Eventually, all court employees will be working out of the new building.

There are two 100-person courtrooms, more than doubling the capacity of the old courtrooms.

“We don’t have people sitting on top of each other and jockeying for space,” O’Dell said. “These courtrooms are more than adequate.”

And technology finally has arrived.

There are flat-screen televisions so lawyers can show videos and exhibits during trials or evidence hearings. The new courthouse has the capacity to have arraignments via video for defendants booked in the jail. The judges have been holding those hearings at the jail, which has meant shuffling lots of files and people back and forth.

City officials also say they have made security improvements with cameras and updated metal detectors. There also are secured entrances for inmates and holding cells.

There are two jury-deliberation rooms and private conference rooms, where attorneys can meet with their clients.

Already, court hearings are moving along at a faster pace, O’Dell said.

“I think we’re going to see more efficiency,” he said.

Eventually, the old building will be torn down for the new probation wing and courtyard. That phase of the project is expected to be finished in the spring.

The municipal court property housed several different commercial and government businesses before being converted into a court. Part of the land was used for a restaurant called Sadie’s Grill in the 1940s. Other offices followed in the 1950s. They were used for government programs, lawyers’ offices and insurance sales.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

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