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Judges temporarily resolve courtroom space problem

By DAVID TEWES
Jan. 6, 2011 at 3:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 5, 2011 at 7:06 p.m.

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Meeting attendeesThose attending the meeting Wednesday were district judges Stephen Williams, Skipper Koetter, Pat Kelly and courts-at-law judges Dan Gilliam and Laura Weiser.

Also present were Emily Means, the district court coordinator, County Clerk Robert Cortez and County Commissioner Kevin Janak.

Victoria County's judges plan to deal with a shortage of courtroom space by making do with what's available - at least for now.

County Judge Don Pozzi said he met with the judges this week and there was an agreement to share the current courtroom space. He also said the commissioners court courtroom will be adapted for nonjury trials and hearings.

"Everybody seems to be OK with everything," Pozzi said.

He called a meeting of the district and courts-at-law judges after a tug-of-war developed Monday over courtrooms.

Court-at-Law 2 Judge Dan Gilliam, elected last year, learned on his first day at work that a desk and equipment had been moved from the third-floor courtroom, traditionally used by his predecessor. It wound up in the commissioners court courtroom and a hallway.

There was a notice posted on the courtroom door on District Judge Stephen Williams' letterhead.

"Effective January 1, 2011, the 24th District courtroom is reserved for district court cases only," it stated. "County Court-at-Law No. 2 cases will be heard on the second floor of this building."

Also posted on the door was a Jan. 27, 2009, letter on Williams' letterhead and addressed to Pozzi. In it, Williams stated he was disappointed to read in the newspaper courtroom expansion plans had been shelved.

"I'm sure you'll recall that we were told several years ago to share a courtroom with county court-at-law on a temporary basis," the letter states. "'Temporary' is now going on eight years and counting."

It also stated that it seems silly to reserve a courtroom in the 1967 courthouse for one hour a week when space is needed for jury trials and large contested dockets.

Williams declined to comment on what happened earlier this week.

"We don't have all this nailed down yet," he said. "I don't want to say anything that might jeopardize what we've already accomplished."

But Williams said the meeting was a good one and a lot was accomplished.

Gilliam said he's confident things will work out.

"We're off to a much better start," he said. "I think it was pretty much resolved."

Pozzi said some things discussed in the meeting with the judges would also be discussed with the commissioners court. He said some of the discussion could be in closed session because it involves security and real estate.

Pozzi said for now the district judges will continue to conduct court on third floor of the courthouse. He said Gilliam could use the commissioners court courtroom, Court-at-Law 1 Judge Laura Weiser's second floor courtroom and one of the district court courtrooms on the third floor.

"At this time, commissioners court is going to stay where it is," he said, noting it usually meets only on Mondays.

But a search will begin for alternative space for the commissioners court to free up that room for Court-at-Law 2. Pozzi said that may happen in the next three or four months or it may not ever happen.

That will have to do until the commissioners court is financially able to carry out earlier plans of build additional offices and remodel existing space, he said.

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