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Wasted opportunity

Most anyone who has had a life event bring them to the top two floors of the Marshall County Courthouse knows that the experience can be stressful, intimidating and, very often, life-altering. Decisions made in the courtrooms of Marshall County have the ability to deprive individuals of their freedom, their property, or even their right to care for their child. Access to justice and the ability to feel heard and represented is crucial to our free society and understanding of our judicial system.

Prior to the tornado, our court system was already bursting at the seams. Crowded dockets made for crowded waiting areas and lengthy wait times. Crowded systems led to less-than-private conversations between clients, attorneys and loved ones. Juvenile court participants never knew where to go for their hearing. Assault victims requesting court intervention sometimes waited within hearing and sight distance of the perpetrator. The importance of adequate space for the gathering of people whose very lives depend on a fair hearing cannot be understated.

When the idea of a redesign of the courthouse was proposed, judiciary members were ecstatic- here was an opportunity to accommodate, not just the current needs of the community, but also the future needs. We have followed the trends in the Iowa State Judicial Branch; we know the possibility of transitioning to regional courthouses is a real thing. If a rural county courthouse cannot handle its caseload due to insufficient space or time, cases will be moved permanently. If Marshall County isn’t careful about its planning for the future, the court system may not remain here. And the costs of all that moving around — financially, emotionally, lost time itself? They are incalculable.

The truly unfortunate part is that the opportunity to address this now and save taxpayers in the long run is being wasted by the Board of Supervisors. If you felt you had to talk with your attorney in too public an area, or sit too close to your perpetrator, absolutely nothing about the redesign will help this. Private space for confidential discussions or protection has been significantly reduced. Juvenile court still does not have a designated space. The Board refuses to acknowledge the simple fact that the judiciary can no longer be contained in just two floors of the Marshall County Courthouse. They refuse to explore options of moving other county offices off site to accommodate an expanding judiciary. They suggest solutions that expose their lack of understanding of why our judiciary system runs how it does, and have ignored the data provided to them. They will tell you that the courthouse is for all of county government, not just the judiciary. I respectfully beg to differ, because a courthouse is, first and foremost, a house for the courts. Their decisions are eroding the ability of our judiciary to efficiently function and expeditiously meet the needs for fair and impartial resolution of community disputes. Their shortsightedness in pushing through an inadequate design against all advice from long-standing members of the judiciary will cost Marshall County taxpayers dearly. I urge you to call your County Supervisors and tell them to not waste this opportunity to better serve the community.