Peter Weinstein (Melanie Bell)
Chief Broward Circuit Judge Peter Weinstein said Thursday that he is lobbying the County Commission for money to build a large courtroom on an empty floor of the main courthouse under construction in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
In his annual State of the Circuit report to the Broward County Bar Association’s young lawyers section, Weinstein said, “We need a very large courtroom like they have in Miami.”
He noted critics have called it a ceremonial hall, but Weinstein insisted there is a need for a large room for judicial meetings and complex business litigation trials.
The 17th floor of the 20-story tower was planned as a shell until future expansion, Weinstein explained.
“We’re having big cases. Judge (Jeffrey) Streitfeld had some significant cases. If they went to trial, we were going to have to lease the BB&T Center to hear them, but he coerced them into settling,” Weinstein said in what may have been a slight exaggeration intended to elicit the laughter he got.
“But seriously, we would have a very significant problem, so I’ve been pushing the county very hard to come up with the money to build a large courtroom,” the judge told his audience.
The $328 million courthouse, parking garage and retail complex project was approved in 2010 by the county, which is paying for it through a 30-year sales tax increase.
Weinstein then announced a parking garage under construction on the southeast corner Andrews Avenue and Southeast Sixth Street will be open to the public in 90 days. The garage was designed to complement the new courthouse and is directly south of the tower.
However, Weinstein noted the county is looking for maximum revenue.
“I have implored them at every meeting to not charge $8 an hour,” the judge said, noting that’s what the county currently charges users of the garage east of the existing courthouse. “I think it’s confiscatory.”
Jurors do not have to pay for parking. But the daily fee is imposed on staff, attorneys and anyone else with business in the courthouse.
Weinstein suggested the bar association should take a more active role and get its membership to contact commissioners directly.
Looking ahead to 2015, the judge said the big move into the new courthouse will begin at the end of summer.
“We’ll have a 90-day window to move in. We have a contractor. It’s called Two Guys and a Truck,” Weinstein joked. All of the divisions are expected to be moved in by the end of 2015.
One major glitch with the move that has not been resolved is furniture, Weinstein added. The commission decided much of the existing furniture is not environmentally acceptable. The county objects to materials with synthetic materials that can “outgas” volatile organic compounds.
Weinstein asked the state for $500,000 for new furniture and was turned down. He then discussed it with the state Trial Court Budget Commission but got nowhere.
Weinstein said he then went back to the county and warned, “I’m telling you right now, we’re going to move this furniture, and you’re going to have to deal with it.”
The south wing of the existing courthouse—which has often been criticized by its occupants as a “sick” building—faces demolition after the move.
Last October, the county reached a $166,500 settlement in a lawsuit filed by former prosecutor Stefanie Krathen Ginnis, who claimed she suffered severe sinus damage because of courthouse mold.
Another 18 lawsuits filed by current or former courthouse employees are pending.