Off-site courtroom expected to open by Nov. 30


A new off-site facility for Thurston County Superior Court that has been in the works for months is expected to be up and running by Nov. 30.

Located at 2404 Chandler Court SW, just a few blocks west of the main courthouse, the new facility is designed to allow strict safety protocols in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, only one courtroom on the courthouse campus is large enough for jury trials to take place, causing a backload of trials to mount.

The courtroom was originally slated to be open by Nov. 1, which was the original deadline for federal CARES Act funds — money to cover pandemic-related expenditures — to be spent. However that deadline was extended to the end of the year. Since then, the opening date of the new courtroom was a floating target. Initially, it had been pushed back to roughy the middle of November. Now, it’s expected to open at the end of the month, said Superior Court Administrator Pam Hartman-Beyer.

In a previous interview with The JOLT , Chris Helmer, who’s heading the construction project, said supply-chain issues were holding up the construction. Specifically, certain items had to be custom ordered for the building, and it was taking some time for them to arrive, he said. One example of custom items were toilets for the corrections wing of the building. Hartman-Beyer told The JOLT News this week that construction was nearly completed, but contractors were waiting on a few more custom items. Helmer didn’t respond to a request for interview in time for this story.

The new courtroom is in an existing building large enough to allow for social distancing. Representatives from different departments in the criminal justice system formed a committee to communicate what they needed from the new space.

When the courtroom is up and running, Superior Court will be able to run two trials simultaneously. Before the pandemic, they ran approximately three or four. Trials were halted to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in March. They resumed briefly in July, but were promptly halted again after local officials voiced safety concerns. Trials resumed again in September.

Last month, Superior Court officials reported a caseload nearly double the average. Hartman-Beyer said the backlog is still growing. In addition to criminal cases, the civil case backlog is growing as well, she said. Criminal cases are being addressed first, in an effort to protect the constitutional rights of people accused of crimes.

Since trials were allowed to resume, four have started, with one ending in mistrial. Hartman-Beyer said five cases are scheduled for trial each week; a majority are resolved by plea deals or other arrangements before going to trial.


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