JUDICIAL CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED STATES
STATEMENT OF JUDGE NORMAN H. STAHL
U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIRST CIRCUIT
BEFORE THE COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE
ON THE COURTHOUSE CONSTRUCTION PROGRAM AND THE FISCAL YEAR 1999 BUDGET
September 17, 1998

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

My name is Norman Stahl. I serve as a judge on the First Circuit Court of Appeals and as Chairman of the Judicial Conference's Committee on Security and Facilities.' Thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to discuss the judiciary's continuous efforts to improve management of the courthouse construction program and the fiscal year 1999 courthouse construction projects that have been prioritized in our five-year plan. I have included with my statement a listing of the projects needing authorization this year and a more detailed description and justification for the projects. I am also pleased that Judge Avant Edenfield and Judge Lamar Davis from Savannah, Georgia and Judge Michael Ponsor from Springfield, Massachusetts are able to join me today to respond to questions you may have on their specific courthouses.

We have worked closely with this Committee over the past several years to respond to issues you and previous chairmen have raised about the courthouse construction program. I believe our work together has been productive and mutually instructive. We have what I would view as an excellent working relationship with the Committee and its staff. The Judicial Conference has marshaled a number of initiatives that will further improve management and control costs of the entire courthouse program. We also, of course, continue our joint efforts with GSA to make this a more effective program.

We are pleased by the willingness of Congress to work with us this year to secure funding for courthouse projects. Notwithstanding my understanding from meetings I had last year with the Office of Management and Budget that it would include court projects in the FY 1999 presidential budget request, OMB abruptly withdrew funding for the courthouse program just before it transmitted the request to Congress. This action was taken without any consultation with the judiciary. We are very appreciative of the actions taken by the budget, appropriations and authorizing committees thus far to provide funding and the necessary project approvals for fiscal year 1999. We hope that our testimony here today will satisfy this Committee as to the need and merit of the projects before you for consideration and enable you to proceed to their authorization.

I would like to briefly summarize our progress to date and future plans.

Prioritizing Courthouse Projects

The fourteen courthouse construction projects before the committee for authorization in FY 1999 were ranked and approved by the Judicial Conference as part of our five-year plan. A copy of the most recently approved five-year plan is attached to this statement. That prioritization process and development of a five-year plan were begun at the request of this Committee in FY 1996 and continue today. I am pleased to report that the process appears to be working very well and is accepted within the judiciary.

Our prioritization process requires that all courthouse projects be scored, considering four factors: (1) the year the courthouse is out of space, (2) the level of security problems, (3) the number of judges affected and (4) operational concerns.

The Judicial Conference of the United States is the Judiciary's policy-making body.

A courthouse project is not proposed for consideration unless the district's long range facility plan indicates that there is no more room for judges in the existing facility. In virtually every proposed project, this determination is made after all executive branch agencies and court~ related units (probation, pretrial services, the bankruptcy court) already have been moved from the existing building. The expansion capacity of the building is the primary consideration in determining the need to take some action. The lack of sufficient space can cause great waste and inefficiency in court operations. In worst case scenarios, trial courts are split into separate facilities causing the dual management of records, prisoners, and duplicate security screening.

Security and obsolescence also are extremely important considerations. Security risks are a grave concern in all public buildings, especially federal courthouses. Tragic events in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and Topeka, Kansas underscore the need for proper security arrangements in federal courthouses. In addition, we are finding that very old buildings cannot accommodate the infrastructure needed to install technological innovations without incurring significant costs. Although not a factor used to determine the need for a new building, this last consideration is very important as we move into the "information age." I would be happy to share my experiences with technologies that have been installed in the new Rudman Courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire.

Each year the judiciary seeks comments from courts about the five-year plan to determine if any of the factors affecting a project's score have changed. By continuously reviewing our priorities, we are able to ensure that changing circumstances at a particular location are taken into account so that necessary adjustments can be made. For example, as the years pass there may be shifts in a court's caseload that might warrant moving a judge's duty station to another location, unanticipated growth in staff might require locating a clerk's office or some judges away from the main courthouse creating split court operations, or the Congress might determine that additional judgeships should be established at a location not initially contemplated. These changing circumstances can affect a project score, and thus its ranking in the plan.

GSA analyses can also impact the ranking and scoring of a project. For example, GSA recently has been studying a number of options for housing the courts in downtown Los Angeles, California. Because the Conference was advised that GSA planned to initiate site and design funding for this project in FY 2000 as opposed to FY 2001 (as had been planned at one time) the project's position in the plan was changed. Until recently, some of the projects appearing in earlier years had lower scores than some projects scheduled for action in subsequent years This situation occurred because planning for the projects had begun prior to the adoption of the scoring and ranking process. Once the FY 2000 projects are funded, the new projects (i.e., those that have not been previously considered for site or design) appear in numerical order by score.

Courtroom Assignment and Use

At its March 1997 session, the Judicial Conference adopted a policy on courtroom sharing that balances the essential need for judges to have an available courtroom to fulfill their responsibilities with the economic reality of limited resources. It continues the standard of providing one courtroom for each active district court judge. In addition, with regard to senior judges who do not carry a caseload requiring substantial use of a courtroom and visiting judges, the policy sets forth a non-exclusive list of factors for circuit councils to consider when determining the number of courtrooms needed at a facility. Such factors include an assessment of workload anticipated to be carried by a senior judge and the number of years a senior judge is likely to carry such a caseload, as well as evaluation of the complement of courtrooms throughout the entire district. Courts are encouraged to provide for flexible and varied use of courtrooms.

The Conference asked each judicial council (councils have the statutory authority to determine the need for court accommodations) to develop a policy on sharing courtrooms by senior judges when a senior judge does not draw a caseload requiring substantial use of a courtroom, and for visiting judges. All judicial councils have developed courtroom sharing policies for senior and visiting judges. Implementation of these policies will assist the judiciary in its continued effort to contain the costs of court facilities, while assuring the appropriate number of courtrooms necessary to fulfill its constitutional mission. The Judicial Conference also has adopted a number of planning assumptions that are being used to determine the courtroom capacity in a new building.

Revisions to the United States Courts Design Guide

Following a comprehensive two-year review, the Judicial Conference approved numerous changes to the U.S. Courts Design Guide at its March 1997 meeting. First published in 1991, the Guide contains the information needed by GSA, private sector designers and builders, and members of the judiciary about the special requirements in federal courthouses that make them functional, secure, quality public buildings. While the comments received from users indicated the Guide was accomplishing its purpose, the judiciary also received a number of excellent sug~gestions for improvements, including recommendations from your Committee.

The revisions are expected to avoid certain construction costs by about five percent ($2 million) for an average-size ($40 million) project and are being incorporated into new projects not yet in design. These savings are in addition to the estimated $1.5 million per facility construction reduction effected by previous changes to the Guide. The new Guide also includes changes and clarifications that should produce more cost reductions, but these savings cannot be estimated at this time. For example, the new Guide will emphasize cost control and budget constraint both in a separate chapter and in notes throughout the document.

The five percent construction cost avoidance was determined by the National Institute of Building Sciences, which assisted the judiciary with the Guide review, using a nationally recognized construction cost estimating firm familiar with federal building construction costs. The firm also had been involved in the development of the 1991 edition of the Guide and its subsequent revisions. The approach used was to compare a typical courthouse project that might have been designed without the approved changes to the same courthouse if it were designed with the revisions. It is not possible to effect all of the cost savings in every project because the project budgets might already have taken into account the savings, or certain items or design features that would generate the savings cannot be included in a project.

The following summarizes the changes to the Guide intended to control future costs:

A new chapter on general programming and budget considerations was added to help control costs.

Shared use of space common to all court offices, such as conference and training rooms and staff lavatories is encouraged, and specific standards on the size and number of these facilities now is included.

The sizes of chambers suites when chambers library collections are shared between or among judges was reduced. Also, designs that reduce lawbook costs, and that do not increase rental costs, are now included as optional confirmations for new construction and remodeled space.

Guidelines were added to assist with determining the appropriate space required for satellite lawbook collections.

Use of exotic hardwoods is prohibited.

The important role that the project budget, long term durability, and maintenance costs play in determining the level and type of interior finishes in new courthouses and in renovation projects is emphasized.

Staff office sizes are delineated in more specific terms.

Circulation space, i.e., the amount of space needed to move from one space to another, is defined in more detail and has been reduced in a number of significant areas.

Narrative was added emphasizing that courts and circuit judicial councils are not to take any actions that would lead to extravagance in courthouse construction or renovation.

The Congress is to be advised of any exceptions approved by the circuit judicial councils to the space standards included in the Design Guide.

Further Study

As part of our on-going commitment to cost containment and program assessment and evaluation, the judiciary is now planning to embark upon author top-to-bottom review of our entire space and facilities program. We anticipate contracting with a major independent consulting firm to assist us with this review. The study will include an assessment of our planning and design assumptions, recommendations on appropriate management roles and responsibilities of court personnel and others in the courthouse construction process, further examination of the issue of courtroom sharing and utilization, and funding mechanisms and resource allocation strategies. We will consult with this Committee and others in the Congress, GSA, OMB, and the General Accounting Office in the course of this study. We intend to move

as quickly as possible, but it will take some time to award a contract to a consulting firm due to the broad scope and special skills needed to perform the analysis. Once the contract is awarded, however, we hope to have a final product in about nine to twelve months

Public Buildings Reform

You also asked that we address the subject of public buildings reform. As you know, a bill passed the Senate in 1996 that was introduced in this Committee that, if enacted, would have provided, among other things, the GSA administrator with the authority to set housing standards for the judicial branch and to determine essential characteristics of accommodations needed by the courts. We continue to be concerned about this aspect of any public buildings reform initiative. In our view, the user of a facility is in the best position to determine what it needs to do its work. There are unique design features for courthouses that involve proper sightlines in courtrooms, security requirements of U.S. Marshals, and other features that are best determined by those working on a daily basis in a modern day federal court. Speaking from a personal perspective and based on my years of experience with construction of buildings prior to my becoming a federal judge, it has always been my view that the most successful building project is one that has been determined by the needs of the user.

As I said earlier in my statement, the judiciary is committed to working with the Congress, GSA and OMB, on any number of issues related to the courthouse program. That is why we are embarking upon a major independent review of the entire program. I would be pleased to provide the views of the Judicial Conference on this matter for the hearing record.

Summary

Many lessons have been learned as the Congress, GSA and the judiciary have worked together over the past several years to build high quality, functional court facilities that will last for several decades. We have incorporated many of the recommendations made by this Committee into our planning process and design standards in order to improve management of the program, and we will continue to study additional steps to control costs and make the program even more effective in the months ahead. The judiciary hopes the Committee will recognize the actions taken by the Judicial Conference as evidence of the judiciary's commitment to a productive and cooperative working relationship. We ask that you take action to authorize the projects included in GSA's pending fiscal year 1999 appropriations bill.

I would be pleased to answer any questions you might have at this time.

Fiscal Year 1999 Courthouse Projects (In order of priority)

Brooklyn, NY (Post Office Renovation for Bankruptcy Court)

The leased space currently occupied by the bankruptcy court is above a drugstore on a busy street in downtown Brooklyn. It adjoins an area recognized as a source of violent terrorist activity. Four homicides have been reported within a block of the court in the last six years. The space provides little protection for the building or its occupants. Because of the lack of security, "after-hours" work by court personnel has been severely restricted. The building routinely leaks, toilets flood, and the heating and air conditioning systems repeatedly fail. If new facilities are not available in the Post Office soon, the Court will have to move to other leased space in order to keep up with the workload. As the building is now 100% occupied, there is no readily co~-located space to house the one new bankruptcy judge expected to be authorized in fiscal year 1 999.

In the meantime, the Post Office, which is already owned by the U.S. Government and on the National Register of Historic Places, and which will be renovated to house the bankruptcy court, stands almost empty and continues to decay and deteriorate, increasing the cost of the eventual restoration.

In addition to the aforementioned operational and security problems, assuming a 3-4 percent rate of inflation, the financial impact of any delay in this project will be devastating. Current cost estimates place the monthly escalation figure at approximately $475,000. Under the most optimistic circumstances, with a further funding delay, the project will lose approximately $5,000,000 in value due to inflationary pressures. Such a loss to this truly unique project could very well force additional redesign and more cost. Recent experience in the New York market shows that the cost of construction is escalating faster than anticipated because of an increase in the number of major private sector projects currently underway.

The Post Office renovation is designed to house the bankruptcy court as well as the United States Attorney's Office, which is currently paying top rental dollar for office space in the Pierrepont Plaza building which it shares with the stockbrokers it sometimes regulates. The project has for several years proceeded smoothly. To date nearly $16 million already has been committed to this project. The bankruptcy court is dealing with an unacceptable situation: cramped, dangerous, and demeaning courtrooms and offices.

Biloxi/Gulfport, MS (Mississippi Gulf Coast)(Site' and Design)

Because of the tremendous success of the casino gaming industry, the Biloxi and Gulfport area is growing economically, in population, in employment, and in requirements for the judiciary. GSA does not have existing space available to meet the needs of the court.

The lease in the court's current facility terminates in FY 2003. Construction on a new facility, therefore, must begin early in 2000 to accommodate the timing of the court's relocation. Any delay in the authority to proceed with site acquisition and design in FY 1999 would create almost insurmountable problems with timing and funding of the court's subsequent relocation to permanent facilities in 2003.

The current leased facility has design, construction, mechanical operation, maintenance, health, and safety problems. Given the condition of the facility, it is not anticipated that GSA will renew the lease. Further compounding operational and security concerns is the fact that of rices for a senior judge and a visiting judge's of rice are located outside the building. Real estate values in Biloxi/Gulfport are increasing rapidly due to new casino development. Because of muggings and a general lack of security, the U.S. Attorney has moved grand jury functions away from the building. Jurors regularly complain of eye and throat irritation. Jurors often deliberate in judges' chambers because the jury rooms are small and poorly ventilated. Heating and cooling is loud, unregulated and unreliable, often causing disruption of court proceedings. Roof leaks, appearance of mold and mildew on walls and ceilings, along with elevator failures are routinely documented.

Denver, CO Construction

Any delay increases pressure on housing additional judicial officers within the existing building. The district court could be forced to house judges and staff, along with the critical jury assembly function, in separate facilities. Currently, the district court has been forced to use the jury assembly space to house the clerk's existing staff. This has caused the utilization of existing magistrate and district courtrooms for juror pools, leading to further problems with jury control, assembly, restroom, and lounge accommodations. Additionally, the court is concerned that any delay of the funding for the construction of this project may indirectly delay the purchase of the planned site for the project.

In summary, the existing facility has operational and functional deficiencies, which are exacerbated with increased caseloads and added personnel, and will need room for more judicial officers in the near term. Separating court staffs, departments, and functions creates significant and counter-productive operational and security problems. Design funding was provided in fiscal year 1997; the design phase is well underway.

Eugene. OR (Site and Design)

Space in the facility is so cramped that the district court has been forced to move all law clerks and the district court clerk's of lice out of the courthouse and into the adjacent federal building complex. In addition, the bankruptcy court and probation office were forced to move out of the Federal Building in 1994-5, while pretrial services and grand jury proceedings continue in the distant wing of the Federal Building Complex. This has resulted in significant operational and security problems. Expansion space is desperately needed given these operational and security problems The U.S. Marshals Service and GSA have confirmed that the security problems in the building pose a "life threatening situation. Frequent demonstrations at the existing building have resulted in violence and property destruction. The court lacks proper judicial officer and prisoner circulation -- prisoner escape attempts have been reported.

Laredo, TX (Construction)

The existing courthouse was built in 1906. There is an immediate need for an additional courtroom and chambers for a new judge. The building has severe security deficiencies. It is critical that construction begin in 1999. Project design is scheduled for completion this summer.

The civil and criminal caseload in Laredo is increasing_and requires additional judicial resources. The next appointed district judge will sit in Laredo. A judge from Victoria must now travel to Laredo to handle the work. In addition, bankruptcy filings in Laredo have more than quadrupled, increasing from 202 in calendar year 1994 to 364 in 1995, 708 in 1996 and 884 in 1997 and show a similar trend this year. This expanded caseload will require the frequent presence of a bankruptcy judge -- at least one or two weeks each month -- to expeditiously dispose of the cases. In addition, the increased caseload places burdens on the facilities of the clerk's of rice. Because there is so much activity, the court is seeking temporary courtroom solutions for visiting judges. The court also must lease additional space for probation and pretrial services because of caseload growth.

From 1995 to 1997, petty offenses with maximum sentences not exceeding six months imprisonment or $5,000 fines have more than doubled, increasing from 1,671 in 1995 to 1,770 in 1996 and 3,492 in 1997. The magistrate judge in Laredo must handle this increased burden, as well as preliminary matters in felony cases, the total of which increased from 1,448 in 1995 to 2,886 in 1997. In 1998, it is expected that the criminal caseload in Laredo will only increase: for the first two months of 1998 criminal case filings are three times the similar total for 1997 in Laredo.

The court is exploring the possibility of constructing interim space for bankruptcy functions and is seeking approval for an additional magistrate judge to handle the burgeoning immigration caseload. There is a major initiative by the Administration to enforce illegal immigration activity that is impacting the court's ability to handle its docket.

The security in the current building is described by the U.S. Marshal's headquarters as among the worst in the nation. The Mexican border is a short 1,200 yards from the courthouse and there is always a potentially serious risk of flight by prisoners and defendants in custody. These security concerns can only be addressed with a new building. Delaying construction leaves the court, the litigants and the public at risk.

Under the current schedule, the new courthouse will not be finished until the year 2001. Delaying construction prolongs the length of time this critical courtroom shortage and security problem exists in Laredo.

Springfield. MA (Site and Design!

The need for a new federal courthouse in Springfield stems from the serious security, structural and operating deficiencies at the current court facility. Any delay in availability of the funds necessary for this project will intensify the risks of injury both to judicial employees and to the public.

Security risks became quite evident when in January 1997 bullets were fired into the windows of a courtroom from a parking garage located across the street from the building. Fortunately, no one was in the courtroom at the time the damage occurred. The district judges are increasingly confronted with gang-related, firearm and drug problems that many law enforcement agencies deem to be the worst in the State. This situation further exacerbates such security deficiencies as the lack of a van discharge area for the secure loading and unloading of prisoners; the lack of secure and separate prisoner corridors on the upper floors (where the courtrooms are located) resulting in dangerous prisoners being moved through public corridors in the presence of family, witnesses and other federal workers occupying this multi-tenant facility. Moreover, the lack of courtroom holding cells and dedicated prisoner elevators accentuates the severe risks for potentially violent consequences facing the court. This situation is substantiated further by the U.S. Marshals Service's active support for the initiative for the new facility, citing "egregious safety and security conditions inconsistent with safe court proceedings" in the current building.

Jacksonville, FL (Construction)

If this project is delayed, there will be several adverse consequences. First, GSA has already purchased the site. Part of the new site was obtained from the City of Jacksonville at a nominal cost because of its commitment to revitalize the downtown area. City Hall will be moving to an adjacent site in the near future. A skyway people mover has been built along the new site with a major stop located in front of the proposed courthouse. The commitment and investment made by the city warrant making funding available for this project immediately.

The security concerns of the old courthouse cannot be overstated. The location of a U.S. Post Office facility in the existing building significantly affects the level of security that can be obtained. The mixing of judges, prisoners, and the public in the elevators and hallways is an accident waiting to happen.

The inflation costs of delay will severely impact an already tight construction budget. Completion was previously scheduled for January 2000. Pushing this date out further would require an increase in the project budget. A reduction in the size and scope of the building is not possible due to tremendous workload growth in this district.

Wheeling. WVA (Construction)

The present courthouse in Wheeling was constructed in the early 1 900's and many of its systems are old. An original appropriation for an annex to the present courthouse was rescinded. A small portion of the original appropriation was preserved by Congress and this will permit some renovation of the existing courthouse and partial resolution of more serious existing security problems by some structural changes. However, it does not meet the future programmable space needs of the Court as outlined in the long range facilities plan for this district. Moreover, executive branch agencies, such as the U.S. Attorneys Office and the F.B.I., are located outside the courthouse in leased space. Long-term rent payments to a private sector landlord would no longer be necessary if an annex were built onto the Wheeling facility which could house these agencies. There is no space for additional judges or visiting judges. Finally, the current facility, in many ways, does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Little Rock. AR (Site and Design)

The court projects several additional judges to be added over the next ten years. There is no space for further expansion in the existing building. The security situation in the existing building requires prisoners to be transported on public elevators and through public hallways.

The project needs to proceed as currently scheduled so that space will be available as the new judges come on board.

Cape Girardeau. MO (Design)

There are six judges (one resident magistrate judge and five St. Louis-based judges) who currently hold court in the Southeastern Division of the Eastern District of Missouri, plus a bankruptcy judge who travels to Cape Girardeau every month to hold court. This is expected to be the judicial staffing in the division for the foreseeable future. The existing building was constructed with only one full size courtroom. While renovation of a small hearing room recently has been completed and that space is now used as a second jury courtroom for civil trials, it is terribly undersized for a courtroom and is not capable of accommodating criminal trials because the jury box only has seating for six jurors. The criminal caseload in the division has grown substantially in the past three years. Not only do those cases create pressure for additional courtrooms, but the higher volume of criminal cases highlights the substantial security deficiencies in the existing building.

Greeneville. TN (Construction!

Four courtrooms are needed immediately to handle the district, magistrate, bankruptcy and visiting judges because only one courtroom in the existing facilities has a jury room or facilities for the jury. During breaks and deliberations, juries must be moved to other areas in the building. There are no witness rooms, attorney conference rooms, or any spaces available for any parties during trials. The recently acquired annex located three blocks from the courthouse can be used only for civil trials and has no security facilities whatsoever (sally port, holding cell, parking, etc.). Basement space in the courthouse has been utilized by the judiciary to a maximum, but the space is substandard and not acceptable as office space.

The operations of all court units and court-related agencies that use the courthouse are being driven by the limitations of the inadequate facilities at Greeneville. It has become exceedingly difficult to make this 94-year-old structure meet the demands of the expanding judicial needs in this division of the court. The court is having to "shoehorn" its constitutional responsibility into a physically limited environment.

The site has been acquired and design will be completed well before the end of FY 1998. Delay severely handicaps and threatens this project as market forces will begin to erode the already limited budget.

Savannah, GA (Construction)

There is no room for expansion or growth of any court or court-related agency, in terms of either equipment or personnel. Given the ever-rising bankruptcy docket, this is a particular cause for concern. Most distressing to the court is the fact that prisoners are routinely paraded through hallways routinely interacting with courthouse personnel, the United States Marshals Service, and the public in general. With (1) the caseload expected to swell; (2) the anticipated addition of judgeships in the near future; and (3) current judges facing the prospect of taking senior status, the provision of construction funding is critical. The design is nearing completion; any delay will have negative impact on the overall cost to the government.

San Diego, CA (Site)

The proposed site is one of few remaining blocks of land in downtown San Diego which has not yet been renovated and is the only site for the proposed annex. If GSA does not acquire the site, operations for the courts and related agencies will be impacted and will be forced to function in separate areas throughout San Diego County in the future. This action will increase the annual operating costs to the judiciary and all other related agencies in the City of San Diego. With San Diego's strong economy, vacancy rates continue to fall, increasing the cost of space in the city. It is public knowledge that the federal Government intends to acquire this property. Recent demolition and subsequent site improvements by the current property owner are under way. These improvements and trends are increasing the marketability of the site. It would be shortsighted to delay and then be faced with the monumental task of finding another site.

San Jose. CA (Site)

The largest concern in delaying site acquisition beyond 1999 is the disappearance of building sites in suitable areas of San Jose. This theme is stressed in courthouse planning documents prepared by GSA. The existing building is included in the area that has been designated for redevelopment by the city of San Jose's Redevelopment Agency. In recent years, downtown San Jose has experienced substantial new retail, office and hotel development. The city of San Jose's Redevelopment Agency has become active in selling desirable sites in the area surrounding the existing building, and plans are being made for their future development. This activity will limit the General Services Administration's ability to acquire a site in close proximity to the existing facility. Whether a site can be obtained in close proximity to the existing building impacts GSA's ability to recommend the continued use of the existing courtrooms. Because of this limited availability of sites and to allow co-location of court activities at the present location, a site should be acquired while vacant or undeveloped sites still remain.