With renovations slated for the Aberdeen Municipal Building starting in fall, 5th Judicial Circuit officials wonder if the county would be willing to provide space for magistrate court hearings.
The community room, in the basement of the Brown County Courthouse Annex, appears to be the best place to have the hearings, Susan Compaan, the circuit's court administrator, told Brown County commissioners during their Tuesday meeting.
She said the room has enough space to accommodate the people who attend magistrate court hearings and that it has wiring in place to handle the court system's computer programs.
Before making a decision, commissioners want to learn more, including whether another location might work better. Duane Sutton, commission chairman, suggested the city-owned Civic Auditorium.
Sutton said the county also needs to find out whether the city plans to host magistrate court hearings in the Municipal Building after renovations are done. That's where the current proceedings are held.
Under state law, the county is obliged to provide room for magistrate court hearings if the city doesn't, Larry Lovrien, Brown County state's attorney, told commissioners.
That, though, doesn't appear to be something the county will have to worry about.
Al Ruhlman, city human resources director, said the intent is to include a first-floor magistrate courtroom in the renovated city building. The courtroom won't be big enough for a jury trial but should be able to handle all other proceedings, Ruhlman said. He said in his 20 years with the city, he can remember the magistrate courtroom being used for two jury trials.
The county has time to decide how to proceed. The community room wouldn't be needed until October, Compaan said. The renovations at city hall would take about a year to complete, she said.
Scott Meints, Brown County Emergency Management director, said the city's new Public Safety Building and space at the former county Extension building on First Avenue Southeast also have been considered as potential sites but that court officials prefer the community room.
Meints said the community room isn't ideal because while there are cameras, there aren't other security features. For instance, he said, there is an emergency buzzer in the magistrate courtroom.
And, Meints said, the public uses the room for meetings and other events. That could be restricted if magistrate court is moved into the space.
However, he said, he wouldn't object to the court system using the room with the caveat that should the county need to open its Emergency Operations Center, magistrate court hearings would have to move. Compaan said that is understood.
The Emergency Operations Center is opened in the event of, for instance, severe flooding or other emergencies that might take time to resolve.
Tom Schmitt, chief deputy with the sheriff's office, said he would prefer that the community room be used for a short time and that magistrate hearings eventually be moved to an existing courtroom, perhaps the second floor courtroom in the courthouse proper, during the bulk of the construction period. He thinks adjusting judicial calendars and schedules should be able to accommodate that.
But, Compaan said, the second-floor courtroom is likely too small for magistrate court and all three county courtrooms are often being used at once.
And, she said, a statewide move to cut down the prison population could mean even more magistrate court hearings need to be scheduled.
Schmitt also noted security concerns involving the community room, including moving inmates into and out of the basement.
Sometimes, there are 40-plus people, plus jail inmates who need to attend the same session of magistrate court, Lovrien said.
Like Compaan, Lovrien said the community room looks like the best option. Compaan said judicial system workers trained on a new computer system in the room. It's already wired to handle the computer system, a big reason it's the preferred location, she said.