Jurors, inmates need more room | VailDaily.com

Jurors, inmates need more room

Special to the DailyOne scenario for the renovation of the Eagle County Justice Center envisions a new courts building as well as an addition to the jail.

EAGLE ” Chris Yuhas has tried to use every last corner of the Eagle County Justice Center to make room for trials, judges, jurors, lawyers, clients and mediators.

“I am literary out of room,” said Yuhas, district administrator for the Fifth Judicial District.

As Eagle County’s population has boomed over the last 20 years, so have its court cases.

Not only are the courtrooms too small, there aren’t enough of them, Yuhas said. Cases are getting pushed back further and further because there isn’t enough room, she said.

Need for space seems to be widespread at the justice center complex, which includes courts, the jail, the District Attorney’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office.

County commissioners heard about space constraints at a meeting Tuesday, and said they agree that something has to be done.

“Basically what we found out is the extent and gravity of the issue of overcrowding now and as it projects into the future,” said Peter Runyon, a county commissioner.

The commissioners are considering how to add on to buildings or build new ones at the justice center. They are also considering how to pay for that.

They could try to pay for it out of the county’s budget or, they could ask voters to approve a sales tax.

One idea is to build a new building for the courts and then to use the current courthouse for other uses, said Commissioner Sara Fisher.

“I’m sold on the fact that something needs to be done pretty soon,” Fisher said.

District Attorney Mark Hurlbert, whose offices are part of the justice center complex, said he is out of space, too.

“Right now, we are just so hopelessly crowded,” he said.

Even he is sharing an office with another attorney in the Eagle building, Hurlbert said.

A lack of space would be a factor that limits the number of deputy district attorneys that could be hired, he said.

Fewer prosecutors would lead to greater caseloads, and less time to prosecute individual cases, Hurlbert said.

“It also means burnout,” he said.

At the Eagle County jail, inmates are routinely sent to the Park County jail because there isn’t enough room, said Sheriff Joe Hoy. That’s resulted in charges of $96,975 this year through May.

“It’s really inadequate,” Hoy said of the current jail.

Plus, Hoy is running out of space for his staff in the justice center. The number of people working for the Sheriff’s Office has about tripled since its justice center offices were built in the mid-’80s, he said.

Consultants have thrown out costs for improvement projects that range from $25 million to $60 million, said Justin Finestone, communications director for Eagle County. He said consultants presented hundreds of options to the commissioners of how to improve the center.

The commissioners will take up the issue again at their Tuesday afternoon meeting.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.

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