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Judge: Courthouse needs updates

Chief Judge Sally Tarnowski of the 6th District Court paid a visit to the Carlton County Commissioners on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to discuss concerns about the need for space in the cramped Carlton County Courthouse.

No action is taken during Committee of the Whole meetings; they are informational only. Several courthouse employees were also in attendance.

Tarnowski said the courthouse is overcrowded, inefficient and lacks sufficient security. She explained there should be 2.6 judges working at the courthouse, but there is not enough room with the current layout.

Tarnowski broke down her assessment in detail floor by floor for the commissioners. She explained the problems with each and what the spaces should look like.

She said each judge should have a dedicated courtroom instead of sharing. A room behind the third floor courtroom that was originally designed for one judge and his or her judicial staff is now occupied by two judges, two court reporters and two law firms which totals 27 people using the space.

The fourth floor is basically expanded attic space without any windows and the courtroom is cramped. Renovation options were explored and found to be costly. The public defenders also share a space that doesn't afford them the privacy it should.

"We are essentially using 1 1/2 court rooms ... for two judges in a courthouse that needs 2.6 judges," Tarnowski said.

She said she is uncomfortable in the first-floor courtroom.

"That courtroom is used for some of our most volatile hearings, child support, orders of protection," Tarnowski explained. "A person walking out of that courtroom can walk around the building and look into a window and fire a gun right through that window at the judge. That is unacceptable."

Tarnowski urged commissioners to think about making changes and updates to the nearly 100-year-old courthouse. She said revamping the spaces to be more efficient and user-friendly would benefit the county by cases moving through faster. That also means jail space would be freed up faster.

Commissioner Dick Brenner asked if the changes were made would there be a guarantee of a third judge added to the courthouse.

"If we do that, I want a commitment from the courts that we get that third person," Brenner said.

Tarnowski said from looking at the court calendar now, the courthouse could use a third judge one day per week.

"We have been looking at changes and we will certainly take all of these things under advisement," Brenner said.

"I am familiar with that term (under advisement)," Tarnowski said, eliciting chuckles from everyone in the room.

When asked about funding, she said she would be willing to sit down and discuss it.

County wants Shaw back on tax roll

The commissioners also discussed the update of the Shaw Memorial Library sale.

Commissioners expressed frustration with the Carlton County Historical Society. The sale of the historic library is on hold because the CCHS refuses to move out of the building.

The building was first offered to the CCHS for $1, but CCHS said it isn't interested in owning it.

CCHS pays the utilities and the county provides maintenance and repairs. The county has paid the operation funds to CCHS for 2018, but discussed withholding funding for 2019 until a resolution is reached.

The county is eager to have the aging building repaired and back on the tax roll. A CCHS representative would not comment for the Pine Journal on the issue.