El Dorado County celebrated the opening of a new courthouse Thursday afternoon.
After El Dorado County Superior Court Judges Steven C. Bailey, Warren “Curt” Stracener, James R. Wagoner and Douglas C. Phimister cut the ribbon on the new Department 8 courthouse, the 30 or so audience members were ushered into the new courtroom.
Presiding Judge Bailey began by welcoming the audience, made mostly of members of the legal system including lawyers and probation officers, to the remodeled building. He introduced newly elected District 1 Supervisor Ron “Mik” Mikulaco, who would be the go-between for probation and the courts before introducing his fellow judges.
He then explained that converting the building to a courtroom was easier said than done.
“Getting these done … isn’t something that just happened,” Bailey said. “Many of us may still have been in diapers when this started. We’ve needed this for years and years and years.”
The project to remodel the building, located under juvenile hall, began in 2007 after Chief Probation Officer Greg Sly agreed to vacate the space. Space in Lake Tahoe was traded to accomplish the deal.
Bailey pointed out a major selling point of the new location: “It’s self-contained, right under Juvenile Hall.” He pointed to a door leading from the side of the courtroom to an elevator, which would bring juveniles down for court cases. “Now, they will not be paraded in front of the public. Nothing could be better.”
Judge Stracener, who said he would almost “exclusively” use the courtroom as he handles most juvenile delinquency and dependency cases, said, “When I came to the bench, I was told … there would be a new courthouse in four or five months, in April of May.” Stracener, who will also continue to take traffic cases, took the bench more than a year and a half ago. “We worked with the Department of General Services and the State Architect to make it happen,” he said.
He joked that a pool had been set up trying to guess when the courtroom would be completed. He had chosen sometime this year.
“I’m really pleased … it came together,” he said. “I used to carry a library in my truck.” He said he would need a folder or book that would be in the Main Street Courthouse while in the Government Building C Courthouse and vice versa. “Now, it’s going to be one home.”
He was also pleased to have his own staff, having mostly borrowed staff from other judges since he started. “It’s my team, our team, all together. I’m looking forward to the Christmas parties, the Halloween parties, the other parties. But not too many parties, though,” he joked. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Bailey took over, praising Wagoner as his predecessor as presiding judge, saying Wagoner’s “experience and ability” made the court system of the county “what it is today.”
After the speeches were made, Stracener took a seat at his new bench, noting that originally, the bar surrounding his desk had been built too high, but within a week, it was completely fixed. “It was within a week, I thought it would be months,” he said.
Overall, he was pleased with the new courtroom, painted in a light beige with wood in lighter colors, which, combined with large windows behind the judge’s bench, made for a bright courtroom. It also featured large desks for defense and prosecution, and two long benches in the back of the room for audience members.
“It’s great. It’s a terrific asset to the county,” he said. “It’s going to really improve the overall efficiency. At Main Street, kids have to be housed in the entranceway before mediation, and they’d have to seal that off. Now, if they are in custody, they can just come through the back, come in the courtroom,” he said, pointing again to the door leading to Juvenile Hall.
He noted the decor was “a little bit more inviting” for younger people in court. “For dependency, those kids haven’t committed crimes. It’s more inviting for them,” Stracener said. “Department 5 has dark mahogany, it’s a traditional courtroom. This looks like a traditional courtroom, but it’s more inviting.”