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Build that courthouse


At this point, we might be forgiven for feeling just a little bit like Charlie Brown and the football when we get our hopes up about a new courthouse for Tuolumne County.

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown released his proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year and, lo and behold, buried deep within the massive funding plan was $65 million for the courthouse.

The county thought the money was secure before, only to find the state couldn’t swing it. Then the Judicial Council invited quite a few counties to make pitches on why they deserved money for a new courthouse.

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At this point, we might be forgiven for feeling just a little bit like Charlie Brown and the football when we get our hopes up about a new courthouse for Tuolumne County.

This week, Gov. Jerry Brown released his proposed budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year and, lo and behold, buried deep within the massive funding plan was $65 million for the courthouse.

The county thought the money was secure before, only to find the state couldn’t swing it. Then the Judicial Council invited quite a few counties to make pitches on why they deserved money for a new courthouse. Tuolumne County was left out once again.

The facts of what life is like at the Tuolumne County Courthouse bear repeating until we see a modern facility rising on the site where the Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Center is and the replacement for the Tuolumne County Jail will be.

A disabled woman crawled up the dozens of marble steps because she feared missing an adoption hearing. There is no elevator, no way for her to get to the third floor in a wheelchair. The image is incomprehensible. It was told by none other than Judge Donald Segerstrom, the presiding judge for the county.

Segerstrom has been on the bench since 2012 and before that he was district attorney. Safe to say, he’s heard and seen a lot. So it’s striking that when he had to make the case for a new courthouse he remembered that woman.

The building is pretty, and historic, but doesn’t come close to meeting the needs of the judicial system and the people who interact with it.

It was built in 1898. And while it’s been kept up well, it remains too small for the court operations. That prompted the county to use space in a separate building about a block away on Washington Street. It was built in 1927 and was once a Chrysler dealership. Not even close to the needs of the court and its judges.

It has a narrow hallway where inmates, defendants, victims, jurors, lawyers and judges all walk down to get to the courtrooms or offices. Unsafe to say the least. An incident waiting to happen.

If the money makes it through the governor’s next budget and the State Legislature, construction would begin sometime during the 2018-19 fiscal year — bonds must be sold — with completion in 2021.

The plans for the five-courtroom, 61,000-square-foot building have been drawn up, the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Division of the State Architect, and the Board of State and Community Corrections have approved them.

Tuolumne County is ready. Let’s hope the state is, too.