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Board OKs Temporary Lease of Courtroom Space

January 22, 1992|LEONARD BERNSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Eight critically needed courtrooms for Superior Court in downtown San Diego will open in May under a temporary lease approved Tuesday by the County Board of Supervisors.

The 60-month lease of 30,000 square feet in the Home Savings Tower will take judges out of makeshift courtrooms and bring them back from courthouses in El Cajon, Chula Vista and Ramona, Presiding Judge Arthur Jones said.

"It's the best thing we've seen in three years," Jones said.

Nine temporary courtrooms were scheduled to open in the defunct El Cortez Hotel by October, 1990, but that plan collapsed when the facility's owner was unable to make good on the deal. Last August, seven superior and two municipal temporary courtrooms in the Hotel San Diego were lost after two years of operation when asbestos was discovered there.

Since then, judges have made do with courtrooms open because of illness and vacation, space in outlying courthouses and makeshift courtrooms such as a converted weight room in the El Cajon courthouse, Jones said.

In the meantime, city and county officials continue to work on a plan to finance and build an expansion of the overburdened downtown courthouse at 220 W. Broadway, which has 34 Superior Court courtrooms.

The eight courts and areas for support staff will occupy the sixth and seventh floors of the office tower across the street at 225 Broadway, at a monthly cost of $48,440. They will be used almost exclusively for civil cases, but in rare cases might handle a criminal case involving non-threatening defendants, said county spokesman Bob Lerner.

The agreement contains an option to extend the lease until November, 2000, in case the courtrooms are still needed.

When they open, the new courts will provide space for two newly appointed judges, three judges in El Cajon, one in Ramona, one judge occupying a Municipal Court in the South Bay and one who has been shuttling among the vacant courts of judges on vacation, Jones said.

"We'll pull judges out of the very temporary places where they've been practicing their trade," Jones said.

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