Robbins: Touring the courthouse |

Robbins: Touring the courthouse

I spend a fair piece of my time in courtrooms.

It occurs to me that most of you likely don’t.

Come, then. Let me take you on a tour of the Eagle County courthouse. Let’s the two of us explore.

The courthouse is laid out east-west at the east end of Chambers Avenue in Eagle. The west end of the building and the entrance at that end feature the Eagle County jail. The bright and airy east end is where the court resides. A parking lot faces Chambers and curls around the back of the district attorney’s office which is in a separate building just a stone’s throw from the courthouse.

Double glass doors bring you to a vestibule and then another set of sparkling doors. This is, I suppose, something like a bullpen or maybe just a place to huff on your coat before heading back out into a winter day when court is over. A walk-through metal detector, conveyor belt — à la TSA — and a pair of guards are next to greet you.

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As you re-loop your belt which you had dropped into the inspection tub, you head down the long, straight hallway on either side of which the working parts of the court are fixed. Left, behind glass is the court clerks’ office. A few steps farther, on the right — behind glass — is the sheriff’s office.

Past both on the left are Eagle County’s four courtrooms: three district courtrooms and one county court. At the far end of the hall is the probation office and a portal for visitors to the jail.

Spaced between the courtrooms are a couple of small conference rooms where the deputy district attorneys set up from time to time to meet with defense lawyers or else lawyers can duck into confer with one another or their clients.

Down a hall to which one needs an access badge and which Ts with another hall at its end, are two conference rooms and the family court facilitator’s office. The hallway with which the first hall Ts runs east and west and off it, one may find the judge’s offices and jury deliberation rooms.

What the courtrooms have in common, I will lay out in a moment, but in one or two, when one pushes back the double doors, the first thing one is met with is a vestibule with another set of double doors just more than arm’s reach at its other end. Left off the vestibule is another conference room that seats 6 to 8 where, once again, lawyers can chat each other up, work deals, confer, or else listen to and be listened to by their clients.

Passing through the second set of double doors — or for those courtrooms sans a vestibule, there is a central aisle with church-like wood pews left and right. A warning to the long-legged, the space between the rows of pews is narrow and you’ll likely knock your knees. When seated, the pew backs reach to nearly shoulder height. Although I admittedly have never counted, there are a dozen or so rows on either side.

At the head of the aisle is the “bar” which deserves a quick aside.

To the untrained eye, the “bar” looks like a rail with a swing gate of hip-height double doors in the middle. Ah, but it is so much more.

In England, from which U.S. law derives, “the bar” is a partition or railing (a “bar”, if you will) bisecting the courtroom; the intent of which is to separate the general public (or gallery) from the space occupied by the judges, counsel, jury, and others directly concerned in prosecution of the case. As such, it is not only a physical bar but a metaphorical one as well, barring the public from the working side of the courtroom.

Straight ahead past the swing gates of the bar is a speaker’s lectern from which attorneys, when it is their turn to speak, address the court. Left and right of the lectern are the plaintiff’s and defendant’s tables which the parties occupy with their counsel during trial. Left or right, depending on the layout of the particular court, is the jury box, which like a hockey penalty box, is separated from the courtroom by a lovely hip-height wood partition. Within the jury box is an appropriate array of comfortable executive desk chairs.

Spanning from the speaker’s lectern and the defense and plaintiff’s table is the “well” of the court, an empty no-man’s land between the attorneys and the judge that one may not breach absent the court’s permission.

Raised at the far end of the well is the judge’s bench and left and right of him are his clerk’s station and the witness stand or box within which witnesses are called to testify. Hung on the wall at the judge’s back is the seal of the great state of Colorado. When the judge is announced to an “all rise” and enters the courtroom from the back, wearing his or her somber robe, s/he mounts the bench and settles in.

By the way, the bench is not really a bench. The “bench” is just the spot within the courtroom where the judge is located at the head of the proceedings. More accurately, the judge sits behind the large prow of an impressive built-in desk and is nestled in a comfy executive chair.

Arrayed about the courtroom are all the necessary modern electronic accoutrements: wide-screen TV, projection screen, computers, and the like.

Oh yeah, the restrooms? Across the hall, opposite the courtrooms.

While it can be intimidating to the uninitiated, to me at least, the courthouse is a comfortable and familiar place. If not exactly home, it is a place where I can calmly settle in to work.

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