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Judiciary complex funding restored

March 28, 2014 - 5:33am

Acknowledging that the planning for a Kona Judiciary Complex has been going on for years, the state Senate Ways and Means Committee restored the Judiciary’s funding request to the full $81 million.

Between that funding and last year’s $9 million, that would bring the total amount appropriated to $90 million, the amount Judiciary officials say is enough to build the courthouse.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, who sits on the committee, said he was pleasantly surprised to see the funding restored at a time when other budgetary requests were being cut.

“It reflects the fact that it’s widely recognized as a priority and a genuine need,” Ruderman said after the hearing.

Ruderman said state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald sat down with him last year to explain the importance of building a consolidated Judiciary complex in West Hawaii.

“The need is very real, in terms of security and cost savings,” Ruderman said.

Judiciary officials, in their written testimony, said previously raised land issues have been resolved. The Judiciary’s initial land selection ended up being dismissed after endangered species were found there. The Judiciary is moving ahead with a parcel owned by the Queen Liliuokalani Trust.

A number of West Hawaii attorneys and Big Island officials submitted written testimony asking that the project be fully funded.

Charlene Iboshi, a former prosecuting attorney, noted that Hawaii County’s population is growing, putting more pressure every year on the 3rd Circuit Court’s West Hawaii courtrooms.

“The Kona Courthouse system was cobbled together as the population and commercial demands of the island exploded,” Iboshi said in written testimony. “I practiced in Kona when there was only one courthouse, and all jury trials were in Hilo. Now, West Hawaii’s filings and litigation are nearly 40 percent of the filings in the Third Circuit.”

Other attorneys detailed some of the challenges they and their clients face when arriving for court — lack of parking, the co-mingling of defendants and plaintiffs, as well as witnesses and jurors in an open courtyard and even physical danger navigating steep hills from unpaved parking areas.

“On one occasion we had (to) cancel court because the toilet on the third floor plugged up, overflowed and waste water leaked through the floor into the Family Court courtroom,” Public Defender Wendy DeWeese wrote. “The building (is) not suitable for a courthouse or probation offices. … Our current facilities here in West Hawaii are a disgrace to our community and the justice system.”

West Hawaii Bar Association President Robert Kim expressed his gratitude for everyone who provided that testimony, which gave legislators a look at the situation.

“We are happy the Senate has chosen to fully support the Kona judiciary center,” he said after the hearing. “However, there is much to be done, because it is now going to conference committee.”

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