Grand jury cites Nevada County Courthouse safety flaws | TheUnion.com
Christopher Rosacker
Staff Writer

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Grand jury cites Nevada County Courthouse safety flaws

As Nevada City officials push to fund an independent study to kick-start a state-stalled revamp of the Nevada County Courthouse, the civil grand jury cited two safety deficiencies in the building's holding facility in a report published Thursday.

"Although the holding facility was determined to be adequate, the Nevada County Grand Jury found two areas of concern regarding safety of inmates, court and county employees, and independent contractors," the grand jury said in the report.

A previous 2011 report identified the need for additional surveillance cameras in the parking garage of the facility. The response to that report stated the California Superior Court did not have the funding to accommodate that recommendation. However, this year's grand jury said the cost would be minor, "given the need to protect those using the facility" and would be shared by Nevada County and the California Superior Court.

The grand jury also noted that no formal security training is provided to court and county personnel.

The report recommends the Nevada County Sheriff's Office and the Nevada County Superior Court address these safety issues promptly by providing additional surveillance cameras in the parking garage and ensuring that all personnel receive formalized security awareness training.

The nearly 150-year-old Nevada County Courthouse, which overlooks the historic downtown of Nevada City, was poised for a $108 million upgrade within the last year after the state deemed it "unsafe, substandard, overcrowded and functionally deficient" in 2009.

However, continued state legislative budget re-allocations of courthouse funds forced the judicial branch to put the project on indefinite delay in January.

Proponents of a $94,000 locally funded feasibility and cost engineering study argue it will make the proposed project more attractive than other statewide projects vying for judicial funds that have diminished in recent years, should funding ever become available.

Members of the Nevada City Council directed staff at a May 16 meeting to allocate $30,000 of the expected $395,000 first-year revenues brought on by voter-approved 3/8-cent sales tax increase.

With initial funding preliminarily allocated, study advocates intend to approach other affected parties, such as the county and Grass Valley governments and private organizations involved in the courts.

The state judicial office in charge of courthouse construction has stated that if the study is funded, it will accept its findings as its own.

Beyond the decaying facility, Court Chief Executive Officer Sean Metroka told The Union at the end of April that safety and security issues are one of the main reasons for a courthouse renovation or rebuild.

California's civil grand juries are a rarity among states and is a practice traced back as far as the Norman conquest of England in 1066, according to Nevada County Superior Court's website.

The Nevada County grand jury consists of 19 county residents who volunteer and investigate day-to-day operations of government agencies within the county and consider how to improve the overall functioning of governmental entities.

Its members serve for one year and have the power to subpoena citizens and documents in the course of an investigation.

California law dictates that organizations formally respond to grand jury recommendations within a specific time frame.

In the case of Thursday's courthouse safety report, the court and the sheriff's office have until July 30 to respond.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email crosacker@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.