The immediate need for a new Miami-Dade civil courthouse—to handle the county’s overcrowded docket of civil cases—is beyond dispute. As a bar association comprised of attorneys and judges who regularly litigate in the civil courthouse on 73 W. Flagler St., the Cuban American Bar Association submits that the building—originally constructed in 1928—is woefully inadequate to handle the county’s civil litigation workload. The building is in disrepair. There are not enough courtrooms. Meanwhile, most of the existing courtrooms are completely unsuited for trials, because they are too small, because of their impractical layout and because they lack in even basic technological capabilities. This is just a short list of the problems with our courthouse.
Our county’s residents and its businesses deserve—and more importantly, need—a new, more expansive courthouse. This is a thriving, growing metropolitan area with a massive economy that is a world-wide hub for international commerce. As a consequence of our county’s economic growth, our county courts oversee a civil caseload that continues to expand and includes significant disputes. The current courthouse facility simply cannot meet our county’s growing legal needs. Unfortunately, the nearly-century old courthouse building has exceeded its lifespan.
There is no real dispute about this. The Miami-Dade Court Capital Infrastructure Task Force prepared a nearly 800-page report, where it voted 7-1 in favor of an expansive 50-courtroom, 600,000-square-foot courthouse, and the county commission unanimously passed multiple resolutions requesting that the county administration solicit bids for the construction of a new courthouse in downtown Miami near the existing courthouse.
Recently, on Jan. 11 of this year, the New Flagler Courthouse Development Partners (Flagler Development) submitted an unsolicited bid for the construction of the new courthouse. The unsolicited bid included an offer to purchase the existing courthouse.
On Feb. 8, the Miami-Dade County mayor recommended that the county commission reject the unsolicited bid for three basic reasons. First, the unsolicited bid places the new courthouse on Flagler Street while the administration prefers a site adjacent to the Children’s Courthouse. Second, the administration would prefer to try to monetize (i.e., sell) the proposed Flagler Street site. Third, the administration opines that the unsolicited bid proposal process would “inhibit market competition” for the request for proposal process for a new courthouse that the administration started after it received the unsolicited bid.
On Feb. 22, however, the county commission rejected the mayor’s recommendation and passed a resolution supporting the unsolicited bid process. The county commission directed that the administration pursue a dual track of the unsolicited bid and RFQ/RFP process and consider both the Flagler Street site and the Children’s Courthouse site.
We, the members of CABA, support the county commission and their decision.
First, it is our recommendation that the county return to its original plans for a more expansive new courthouse. The task force, after extensive study, made very specific recommendations as to the size of the new courthouse. The administration has suggested that it would like to pursue a smaller courthouse. But that suggestion is not based upon any known study or analysis other than the fact that it would obviously cost less. We do not want the county to build a new courthouse that will be obsolete within a short time, nor do we want to have to return to the county to request construction of (and more money for) new courtrooms in shell spaces.
Second, we advise that timing be of the essence for this courthouse project. We believe that by opening the unsolicited bid, we will accelerate the timeline on this long overdue and already seriously delayed project. Time is the greatest enemy of an undertaking of this magnitude and we are concerned that the RFQ process will delay construction and ultimately completion of the project, deep into the next decade. Our citizens deserve a civil courthouse that meets minimum safety, sanitary and health standards. We cannot suffer another half of a decade practicing in a building that would otherwise have been condemned were it not county property.
Third, the most suitable location for the new courthouse would be adjacent to 73 W. Flagler St. courthouse. This particular site will pay proper homage to the iconic Miami-Dade County courthouse, while re-invigorating the Flagler street corridor. In addition, the site near the Children’s Courthouse can be preserved for auxillary facilities to serve our children and families in the future.
Jorge L. Piedra is president of the Cuban American Bar Association.