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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Pasco Tribune

Judge advocating for a new criminal courthouse

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LAND O' LAKES - Pasco-Pinellas Chief Judge Thomas McGrady said he knows the chances are slim that he'll be able to get county commissioners to reconsider delaying construction of a new criminal courthouse, but he's going to take a shot Tuesday.

"I don't suspect that they're going to take any action," McGrady said. "We just want to make sure they understand that the courthouse there is needed. I would hope that a year is enough of a delay."

Two weeks ago, commissioners canceled the upcoming bid selection meeting for the $28 million project. Five of the nation's leading courthouse architecture firms had submitted bids for the Pasco building, which is slated to be built in front of the Land O' Lakes jail. The new courthouse would have eight courtrooms and a secure connection to the jail, eliminating the need for deputies to drive criminal defendants to New Port Richey and Dade City for trial.

State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Public Defender Bob Dillinger will join McGrady Tuesday in an effort to advance the courthouse project.

"I was advocating in 1988 the need for a centralized facility," McCabe said. "The efficiencies you would gain by bringing everyone together in one location are tremendous."

McCabe said he disagrees with Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco about the need to expand the jail. "I've looked at my filings for the last three years," he said. "The number of felony filings has gone up about 600 a year. Those are the people who are in the jail, but if you had a more efficient court system, you could move those cases faster."

McGrady has said he cannot assign any new judges to Pasco County because there is nowhere to put them. Adding more criminal court judges would reduce the case load for each judge, which means defendants wouldn't have to wait as long for trial dates.

Nocco has said the jail expansion should take precedence over the courthouse. His budget includes $1.9 million to open the third floor of the jail's newest building, which would accommodate an additional 256 beds.

McCabe said such a move would be "terribly shortsighted."

"They're going to have to use ad valorem revenue to build that jail, and it will be on the backs of the taxpaying citizens," he said. "The courthouse would be built using court fines and fees, so it's built on the backs of the people who commit crimes and pay traffic tickets."

Also on Tuesday, commissioners are scheduled to vote on the contract with new County Administrator Michele Baker. They also will get their first look at the proposed fiscal 2014 budget. The meeting begins at 10 a.m. at the Historic Courthouse in Dade City.

lkinsler@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1852

Twitter @LKinslerTBO

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