CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Chief Justice Ronald Moon hugged a well-wisher yesterday after he delivered his State of the Judiciary speech at the Capitol.
Chief justice asks for $15.5M
The extra funds would build a new complex in Ewa*
Lawmakers will consider giving an additional $15.5 million for a Kapolei Court Complex. They were also asked to consider raising the pay for some Family Court attorneys* after being warned by Chief Justice Ronald Moon of crowded and inadequate conditions in courtrooms.
In his State of the Judiciary address yesterday, Moon asked for the extra funds on top of $95 million legislators appropriated in 2005 for the Ewa court complex, which is scheduled to open by 2010.
Before asking for the money, which Moon said is needed to offset rising construction costs and to ensure the complex will offer enough services, he laid out challenges facing the state's Family Court system.
Moon said Family Court judges are overloaded with as many as 15 cases in one morning, all of which require them to rapidly make "gut-wrenching decisions." And because too many cases are heard on the same date, waiting areas are increasingly packed, creating "heightened security concerns," he said.
"You can definitely feel the emotions and hostility in the room, and the noise level might lead you to think you're in a train station rather than a courthouse," Moon said. "Once the parties enter the courtroom, things aren't much better as parties are literally just a few feet away from each other and no more than five to six feet away from the judge."
The chief justice also noted that in light of increasing building costs, he had to approve a smaller juvenile detention facility for the complex -- with 66 beds instead of 78.
Legislators said that while they agreed with Moon's address, they would still carefully review the funds he asked for.
Senate Minority Leader Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) said adequately funding the complex is important since the project will eventually help develop Kapolei as a second city and reduce traffic in and out of town.
"The court needs the space," said Hemmings, who sits on the Ways and Means Committee, "and it will be of great benefit for people going to court."
Sen. Clayton Hee, chairman of the Judiciary and Labor Committee, said he understood the need for more money because construction costs have risen about 3 percent in the past year.
However, he said the state should consider whether it would be cheaper to have probation officers and other workers rent offices near the complex instead of paying for a bigger building where they can all work under the same roof.
Renting space might be a better option, according to Hee, given the high cost of construction at the complex's site, which is more than $200 per square foot.
"That's an issue that the Legislature has to confront," said Hee (D, Kaneohe-Kahuku).
Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa-Ewa Beach-Kapolei), said the funds for the Kapolei complex, as well as Moon's request for two more family court judges and a pay raise for court-appointed attorneys in parental rights disputes, would need to be weighed against other demands before lawmakers.
"We have to take a very close look at it because we don't want to be shortchanging our judicial system," said Espero, who chairs the Senate's Public Safety Committee. "The key is that they are able to justify the need for increased staff. ... I hope we are able to fit it into the budget."
Friday, January 26, 2007
» State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Moon asked the Legislature for an additional $15.5 million for the Kapolei Court Complex and also a pay raise for some Family Court attorneys. A headline on Page A5 in yesterday's morning edition incorrectly said the $15.5 million would cover both the court complex and the pay raise. Also, the story implied that the money would be used for both.