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Letters to the Editor

BY DI READERS | OCTOBER 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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Justice center good

For 13 years, I have been with Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa. We are a nonprofit organization made up of volunteers and professionals who mediate small-claims cases in Johnson and adjacent counties. Our job is to facilitate open dialogues between parties engaged in a conflict.

Over the years, I’ve helped many individuals resolve disputes. However, because of the lack of space at the historic Johnson County Courthouse, too often those critical mediation sessions are relegated to hallways and break rooms.

The issue of safety is a concern for us. Occasionally, there can be volatility between parties, warranting a sheriff’s deputy to be present with us. More serious is that we all use the same entrances and exits, which have no security measures. We’re fortunate a tragic incident hasn’t occurred.

When attending a recent meeting at the Courthouse, I was dismayed to see a lady with a prosthetic leg struggling to climb the stairs. Our courthouse needs to have facilities to accommodate disabled persons.

It’s important that the proposed justice center includes necessary expanded facilities for inmates, deputies, and other staff. But please remember our Courthouse needs to provide for the safety and security of people conducting business there. We need to consider the future of our aging Courthouse and make an investment for Johnson County now.

I urge you to turn your ballot over and vote yes for the new justice center.

Judy Atkins
Iowa City

Vote Yes

I began practicing law in Iowa City in 1959. During the next 50 years I was, of necessity, in the Johnson County Courthouse frequently.

In the early years, the beautiful old (1901) building met the needs of Johnson County, with one judge, one courtroom, one jury room, and office for the clerk of court. But as population increased, so did the number of criminal and civil lawsuits, probate, and other legal proceedings.

Those needs were partially met by moving some non-judicial departments to off-site locations to enable more courtrooms, judges, juries, and jury rooms, as well as the County Attorney’s Office. But need remains for more judges, courtrooms, support personnel, and storage space for files and records.

More serious, however, is inadequate security and safety in the Courthouse. For instance, structural limitations make it impossible to install modern screening equipment at entrances, making the potential for danger ever-present. Anyone is able to enter the building armed with weapons and intentions for harm to those inside.

Just as growth in our county’s population (about 24,000 in 1901 to more than 130,000 now) places increased demands and concerns on the Courthouse, so has it also on the county jail. The maximum number of inmates that can be housed in the jail is 92, while the average number of inmates per day is now between 160 and 200. The overflow is transported to other county jails with available space, costing $1.3 million annually and creating additional danger for deputies and inmates.

The proposed justice center will significantly alleviate concerns for security, safety, and space. Entry to the courthouse would be only via screening equipment at the sole entrance; inmates would be segregated from jurors, officials, visitors, and others; and the $1.3 million for out-of-county “jail rent” would be better spent in Johnson County.

With bonding interest at the lowest rate, now is the time to flip your ballot and vote yes on the justice center referendum in November’s election.

It’s the right vote at the right time.

Phil Leff
Iowa City


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