First Judicial District officials have said it is making several changes in courtroom operations by setting up a jury room for jurors in civil cases in City Hall and moving the complex for senior judges into the space in which the clerk for civil cases, the Prothonotary’s Office, is currently located.
Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge John W. Herron, administrative judge of the trial division, said the plan to have a civil jury room dates back to when he was the administrative judge in the 1990s.
Jurors for civil and criminal cases congregate in the same jury assembly room in the criminal courthouse, the Justice Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice, so Herron said he had the idea in the 1990s to create space in City Hall for civil jury panels so they would not have to go to the CJC on Fridays and then walk over to City Hall.
Jurors can receive notice to come directly to City Hall, Herron said, and panels can be organized in “City Hall for civil jury service. It’s going to be a much more efficient utilization of space and it’s going to add considerable time savings and logistical ease to have the jurors aggregate in City Hall and go to City Hall courtrooms for civil jury service.”
“As oftentimes happens if you don’t get a full panel, you have to send for another panel,” Herron added. “The logistics just never work.”
Jury Commissioner Daniel Rendine said “it’s a little bit awkward to move a lot of people around. It’s much more efficient to have everybody assemble over at City Hall. I think it’s going to be great, not only for jurors, but for judges and litigants, because the jurors will be there to begin with and they won’t have people coming across the street.”
Currently, jury commission staff assemble the jurors and then the civil judges’ criers walk them across the street to City Hall.
“Not that it’s such an inefficient thing to do; it is an extra step,” Rendine said. “Every once in a while a juror will get lost.”
Rendine said his staff should be able to handle the juror room over in City Hall without any additional staff because jurors are usually only called for civil cases on Fridays and not for criminal cases.
The court has “institutionalized the practice of picking civil juries on Friday and prioritizing selecting jurors for the criminal program on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday,” Herron said.
The civil jury room would go into 143 City Hall, where the senior judge complex is currently located.
The senior judge complex will move into 278-288D City Hall, and the prothonotary will move into 195-196 City Hall.
The senior judges are being moved because they “raised a concern with me about their personal safety because there really is no security in that first-floor area where they are presently housed, so by moving them to the second floor we achieve a much greater comfort level,” Herron said.
One senior judge, Judge Victor J. DiNubile Jr., said he is not too concerned about the security because the complex door is always locked and there is a buzzer and a camera to observe whoever is at the door.
But he said he is happy to go wherever the senior judges are asked to go.
At one point, the FJD had considered moving its Compulsory Arbitration Center into 195-196 City Hall, Herron said, but that plan was no longer necessary because the court was able to renegotiate its rental agreement for the fifth floor of 1880 JFK Blvd.
The space at 195-196 City Hall would not have worked as well for the arbitration center because it was a smaller space that might have lost efficiencies by having less room to hold arbitrations, Herron said.
That space in City Hall is “old Municipal Court courtrooms that haven’t been used in over a decade. What we found is that it would actually be 4,000 square feet less than the present arbitration center has. And there are no easily available bathroom facilities, so we have a lot of people in the arbitration center and we would not have had the bathroom facilities, let alone the same space that we really need for the conference rooms and the courtrooms,” Herron said.
It’s a “three-way move. It’s an ambitious plan,” Herron said.
Proposals for space programming and architectural design services are due 3 p.m. January 18.