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Grand Jury lambasts county courthouse

Moving inmates around crowded Nevada County Courthouse hallways is “irresponsible,” expensive, and a potential threat to the public, according to a grand jury report issued Wednesday.

The Grand Jury admonished the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Keith Royal for not using a closed-circuit video system already in place that links the courts to the county jail for criminal charge arraignments. The grand jury said the courthouse security and cost concerns are not new and were addressed in two previous reports.

“The grand jury has repeatedly called attention to the lack of security within the Nevada County Courthouse, and the (Board of Supervisors) and the Sheriff have repeatedly promised to address these problems without result,” the new report said. “This inaction does not well serve the public or the inmates.”



It added: “It is irresponsible for the County to move inmates through crowded public hallways. Continuing this practice places inmates, the public, and law enforcement personnel in harm’s way and exposes the taxpayers of Nevada County to potential liability.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman John Spencer said he had not read the report in detail and declined comment.




Sheriff Royal took exception to the criticism of not using the closed-circuit system enough.

“We don’t drive that engine – the courts do.” Royal said. “They are the ones who decide to use it or not … The local judges have not elected to use it to its maximum capacity.”

Royal said Superior Court Judge C. Anders Holmer uses the system in Truckee for criminal arraignments, and it saves money by not having to transport prisoners back and forth from the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility in Nevada City.

The closed-circuit system is considered for violent or problematic defendants at the Nevada City Courthouse but is not considered for regular use, according to Presiding Superior Court Judge Sean Dowling.

Arraignment days are handled in the courthouse, “because you have everybody in the same place at the same time,” Dowling said.

Hearing cases between a courtroom in the jail and another in the courthouse would split up court officials, defendants and lawyers, Dowling said.

Using an electronic courtroom for arraignments also requires the consent of the accused as well as defense lawyers, he said.

Public Defender Don Lown said he did not know why the system hasn’t been utilized more. But as a public defender for 20 years, he said he might have an explanation for lawyers not wanting to use the electronic system.

“It eliminates confidential discussion with the client at arraignment,” Lown said, often the first time a public defender gets to speak with a client. The discussions are important to find out if a defendant has more legal problems, Lown said.

The Sheriff and county officials are required to respond in writing to the Grand Jury report in August and September, respectively.

More room for

female prisoners?

The report also said more space should be provided for female inmates at the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, because the current situation forces male and female inmates to share a recreation area, which is potentially dangerous. The grand jury recommended building a complete new female inmate housing unit.

“We’re exploring steps to expand the Wayne Brown Correctional Facility to increase capacity by 100 beds and to deal with that issue,” Royal said. “There’s a lot more women violent offenders out there now.”

Royal said he will sit on a state steering committee to decide how $1.2 billion in new jail construction money will be spent in the next few years. “We’ll be competing for that funding,” Royal said.

For more on the Grand Jury reports, go to http://www.civilgrandjury.com.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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