Jason Millsaps, chief of staff for County Judge Mark Keough, said the money will come from Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds and that it will allow the Office of Emergency Management to convert rooms in the convention center into courthouse rooms in terms of safety. The 56,000-square-foot facility includes a ballroom and multiple smaller rooms.
“As part of the jury operation plan, ... in compliance with the Supreme Court order of the state, ... they have to provide so much space per juror ... to facilitate that they are moving jury operations to the convention center to spread them out. In order to do that, we need to secure that facility as a courthouse,” Millsaps said.
Certain trials require fewer jurors, but larger cases will require enough space for 200 to 300 prospective jurors at a time, he said. Opening up a larger facility will allow backlogged cases to move forward, he said.
Jurors will need technology to be able to see and hear presentations and otherwise interact with the judge and attorneys safely, he said.
The convention center’s function for courthouse proceedings will not affect its weekend uses or other special events, Millsaps said.
Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack asked if short-term upgrades were worth an expense of nearly $800,000.
“Even though this is CARES Act funding, are we looking for the most effective way for this to happen?” Noack asked.
Millsaps said the work will eliminate some of the long-term overtime needed at the facility in the future because of the technology that will be installed.
Commissioners unanimously approved the plan. Details about the security measures could not be discussed during the open session.