District Judge Dan Mills went before County Commissioners at their regular meeting on March 13 to point out what he considers to be serious inadequacies in the new District Courtroom. He presented Commissioners with letters from eight attorneys from whom he had solicited responses. These included Zachary P. Hudler, Thomas M. Felps, Robert J. Gradel, Jared K. Wright, Terry D. Cluck, Karen J. Langsley, H. Bryan Hicks, and Charles L. Lacallade.
Robert J. Gradel said, “Please express my appreciation to the Blanco County Commissioners for providing the Court and the attorneys with the beautiful new courtroom facilities.” Jared K. Wright, writing on behalf of the Highland Lakes Bar Association, said, “We are very appreciative to the Blanco County Commissioners for the beautiful new facility.” Karen J. Langsley said, “The building is very clean and attractive, and does honor to the judicial system.”
But each one went on to describe his or her concerns about the facility: “Witnesses in the witness box are almost totally obscured from the defense table.” “There is no place for attorneys to confer with clients, or opposing counsel.” “The acoustics in the courtroom are poor.” “There is no place to park a witness. Family violence issues are common, and a place needs to be provided where a person who is a victim of family violence cannot be intimidated by the abusing spouse prior to testifying.”
“The courtroom is cramped. There simply doesn’t seem to be enough space behind the bar to accommodate all of the attorneys and other support people that are required to make court run smoothly.” “It is very difficult to hear witness testimony from certain parts of the room.” “Those seated at the counsel table farthest from the witness stand are unable to see the person testifying. An attorney who is examining a witness must see his or her expressions to effectively elicit testimony.”
“The TV screen is behind the judge and this causes everyone to have to turn to see it and makes it difficult for the judge, jurors, and counsel and witnesses to view exhibits.” “I wish to object to the lack of internet access in the annex.” “Settlement discussions and client consultations in the great outdoors are fine unless its 30 degrees with a blue norther blowing, a thunderstorm is in progress or confidentiality is deemed of importance.” “Fixed gallery seating was apparently designed for midgets and is inadequate for normal dockets.”
Judge Mills made the argument that if there were to be some incident take place due to present conditions, Judge Guthrie and Commissioners Court could be held responsible for failure to remedy the situation. Judge Jones said that he wholeheartedly supports Judge Mills in suggesting that the District Court return to the old County Courthouse. “This facility works,” he said. “That would instantly solve the problem—a no brainer to me.” He said that the District Court is required to provide adequate facilities. We ask that you do that—not for the judges but for the citizens of Blanco County.”
Judge Mills said that it would be more efficient to have supporting offices in the same facility as the courtroom whereupon Debbie Elsbury said, “I will work with this courtroom. I’m not concerned about walking across the street.”
Prior to the meeting, Tex Riley had issued an email to his friends and associates urging them to attend the meeting. He videotaped the proceedings. He had suggested three options: 1) expend large sums of money to fix the problems in the new facility, 2) return to the courtroom in the County Courthouse or 3) move court proceedings to courtrooms in nearby counties. Commissioner Liesmann asked Mr. Riley if he had tried any cases in the new facility. Mr. Riley said that he had not but that he had attended court there once. Judge Mills said that Mr. Riley’s email was not an accurate rendition of what actually takes place. He said that hearings could be held in another county but that the only change of venue to another county would be in the case of a criminal trial where such a move might be authorized. “I wanted to let people know this was on the agenda,” said Mr. Riley. “I want them to know what you think. I’m picking no option.”
The new facility was built in large part due to concerns that the Courtroom in the Blanco County Courthouse might pose fire safety issues and that it, too, presented problems and lacked modern conveniences that were not readily remedied due to its designation as an historic building.
Commissioner James Sultemeier moved that a committee be formed to look into the stated concerns and to propose possible strategies for their solution. He proposed that Chris Liesmann and John Wood form the committee with any others they might deem appropriate. The motion carried.
In other business Commissioners approved naming the new Law Enforcement Center the “Bill Elsbury Law Enforcement Center” after Sheriff Elsbury who passed away unexpectedly while serving the County. Debbie Elsbury said that “the Law Enforcement Center meant a lot to him. He would be very pleased.”
Commissioners authorized the sale of surplus property located in the County warehouse pursuant to Texas Local Government code 263.151. Judge Guthrie is authorized to accept or reject any offers. He said that most of the surplus property consists of used furniture, including old election boxes. “Marvin has done an excellent job of organizing it.”
A continuation bond was authorized for the Waste Water Treatment Plant Phase I of the Rockin’ J subdivision.
Commissioners accepted the bond for Sheriff Bob Morgan and they also accepted the GovDeals bids for a concrete cattleguard in the amount of $310 and a maintainer for $8,525.
The County Auditor was authorized to purchase a Financial Management Application-Auditor Module program from NetData for $14,000 and authorization was granted for the County Judge to sign the license agreement.
Commissioners authorized the release of the utility easement between lots 29 and 30 of the Ranches of Brushy Top subdivision as requested by owners Stephen and Patricia Harrell, who have received written approval from PEC and Verizon Engineering to do so. This will allow them to build in the middle of the two lots without seeking a replat.
Commissioners authorized advertising for a Road and Bridge employee to fill the vacancy created by the death of former employee Jason Cortez who was killed in an auto accident.