On Friday, Maricopa County dedicated its new court tower, officially taking ownership of the 16-story structure at Second Avenue and Madison Street in downtown Phoenix.

Though operations will not commence in the building until Arizona Centennial Day in February 2012, county staff and supervisors decided to formally mark the delivery of the certificate of occupancy.

As workers made tweaks and final adjustments, dignitaries gathered Friday morning in the building’s lobby for brief remarks by those who played a large part in the building’s completion.

“On time and under budget” was repeated by numerous speakers, clearly pleased to be able to report the fact.

Supervisor Don Stapley said that the county had saved $198 million in financing costs by building when it did—rather than delaying, as detractors had recommended. The building is now debt-free, he said.

“This building is a testament to the courage and tenacity of the board and staff in the face of their challengers,” he said. “The citizens of the county for the next 100 years will be the winners.”

Supervisor Fulton Brock said that the building’s inscription—“The first duty of society is justice”—is what the board and the county stand for.

“This building is the envy of every judicial district in the nation,” Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox said. “When Maricopa County sets its mind to something, there’s no stopping it.”

Also speaking was County Manager David Smith, who thanked all of the contractors and vendors.

“Today we celebrate the success of a great team in what will be a 100-year building.”

Smith described some of the many unique elements of the new structure, such as separate waiting areas for victims and defendants, holding cells that will accommodate more than 1,000 inmates, and a variety of courtroom designs made to address varying needs. Smith also noted that there were more than 2 million work hours on the project with no lost-time accidents.

Assistant County Manager for Public Works Kenny Harris praised the three construction and design teams that led the operation: HDR, Parsons and Arcadis.

Event attendees stood atop one of the building’s featured elements: a terrazzo tile floor depicting the flow of the Salt River.

Representing the court (for Presiding Judge Norm Davis, who was unable to attend the Veterans Day event) was Judge Eddward Ballinger. He said, “This project represents an example of the prudent and wise leadership by supervisors and county staff. Of all the bickering we see today, this is an example of efficient bipartisanship.”

Here is another story on the opening. And the Court Tower has its own web page here.

More photos are below. And more are available on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

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Phoenix Police Chief [sic] Jack Harris (right) accepts the flag from the honor guard that adorned the casket of Officer Travis Murphy, who was laid to rest during ceremonies at Phoenix Memorial Park, May 26, 2010. (Rob Schumacher, The Arizona Republic)

 

For anyone interested in the state of policing in Arizona’s largest city, today’s Arizona Republic has a Q&A with Jack Harris, the “Public-Safety Manager.”

Unfortunately, it will take you all of about eight minutes to read it. This interview with the most important cop in one of the state’s most beleaguered departments is about 30 column inches, and barely scrapes the surface of the Phoenix Police Department’s challenges.

I hesitate to nitpick the reporter who covered the story. William Hermann has reported on a wide variety of city topics over the years, and I’ve always appreciated his coverage. And there may have been all kinds of other factors that kept the published Q&A (too) short. Editors could have trimmed it (likely to fit more about Don Stapley’s lawsuit against Maricopa County, in regard to Andrew Thomas and the first-most-beleaguered law enforcement department in the state—the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office).

In 2007, Jack Harris retired as chief of police. Two weeks later, he became public-safety manager. (Michael Schennum, The Arizona Republic)

Of course, it’s possible that Harris only gave Hermann 15 minutes for questions. Or—worst of all—that he demanded the questions be e-mailed to him. But I hope Bill Hermann would have mentioned that in the story.

One of the most troubling aspects of Harris’s tenure—unacknowledged in the Q&A—is evident in the conflict between the story’s headline and the cutline of the accompanying photo by Rob Schumacher.

The photo shows “Jack Harris, Phoenix’s chief of police …”

That’s inaccurate, which the Republic tacitly acknowledges in the headline half-an-inch farther south. That hed reads, “Public-safety manager vows he’ll keep serving.”

So Harris is not the Chief of Police. That was the position her formerly occupied, until he retired and began drawing his pension. Immediately rehired by a compliant Mayor and City Council, he has been ever since the Public Safety Manager. With a new salary and shot at a new pension.

The City has claimed that it’s not the same job, that Harris has “added duties.” Well, OK. But is it possible that the “agency chaos” in the department has something to do with a pension end-run that has become all too familiar?

The Republic has covered the Harris pension controversy before. Most recently, they reported that the City Council voted to pay Harris’s legal bills in the pension challenge. So how about some follow-up questions while Harris sits on the hot seat?

In addition, the Republic has covered Arizona’s public pension problems in depth this fall. The economic consequences may be severe (though we may ultimately discover, not as severe as the blaring headlines would suggest). But one of the unfortunate consequences of double-dipping goes beyond the merely fiscal; it is also ethical, a crisis in confidence.

Here’s hoping Bill Hermann asked the Chief—I mean the Manager—about the economic machinations that got him to keep his position. His response, if we get it, could go a long way toward proving Harris’s claim that his department “doesn’t put up with poor behavior. We’re not hiding anything.”

Maricopa County Court Tower and Supervisor Don Stapley

Today’s top legal story was a construction story—what could be better in real estate-crazy Arizona!

 

The “topping-out” of a building, even a new courthouse, is rarely much more than page 3 stuff. More often, it rates only a squib in the newspaper, or a larger filler news story, but only if there’s a good photo.

But the skyward reach of the Maricopa County Superior Court qualifies for much splashier coverage. For it is steel and mortar—and so much more.

The courthouse, as most everyone knows, has become a Rorschach inkblot on the legal psyche of the Valley community. It was constructed with cash that the county administration had saved up over at least 10 years. But it is also the most expensive single construction project that the county has ever taken on.

Thrifty, or spendthrift? Individuals disagree.

Recently departed County Attorney Andrew Thomas thought it was a waste of money, and worse. Over the past year, using the rising court tower as an iceberg, or a battering ram, he aimed crushing blow after crushing blow at county government. And in his mission to unearth what he claimed were massive improprieties, he even extended his assault beyond all the usual targets. He included court leadership itself, going so far as to file charges against judges.

Those actions—and therefore the Court Tower itself—split the legal community like very little ever has. It led to indictments, harmed reputations—on both sides—anger, recrimination, firings, and the specter of a rudderless county, perhaps mortally wounded by action and reaction.

Andy Thomas has resigned now, building his campaign for Arizona Attorney General. His replacement—Rick Romley—was named and has begun his own purge. So everyone has now taken a collective deep breath.

Hon. Barbara Mundell

But that high opera served as a fitting first act to the topping-out ceremony, where county officials maybe even enjoyed themselves, for the first time in a long time. Board of Supervisors Chair Don Stapley—who himself had been charged by Thomas—had to feel a certain sense of accomplishment on the sunny April day as he spoke to the assembled well-wishers.

But it was in a keynote speech delivered by Presiding Judge Barbara Mundell that we learned one of the more interesting aspects of the new courthouse.

She spoke on April 14 at the annual dinner of the Arizona Asian American Bar Association. And her words and tone also were those of someone who had come this close to a ship-sinking iceberg. She was insightful, drained, and relieved.

Hon. Gary Donahoe

Judge Mundell enumerated the challenges she had faced—including a lawsuit by Andy Thomas against a Spanish-speaking probationary DUI program, which he alleged were race-based courts. (She won that federal lawsuit at the trial and Ninth Circuit levels.)

“No Presiding Judge had ever been sued before,” she marveled. “I was making precedent, but not in a good way.”

She still sounded stunned as she spoke about “a new way of attacking the court that I’d never heard of: through press releases, out in the public.”

The low point, she said, was when she was contacted by the media at about 2:00 on a weekday afternoon. They had been informed that a search warrant had been issued for her home and office, and they wanted to tape what happened.

“I had to explain to our 14-year-old daughter that strangers may be going through our house, through her room.”

“Mom,” her daughter asked, “did you do something wrong?”

She managed to obtain an order to stay the warrant, if it ever existed.

Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s stories like that, you surmise, that make the engraved words on the new courthouse resonate even more with her: “The first duty of society is justice.”

But the visible words outside cannot compare with the words inside that people like me will never see. And those words are written on the building’s top beam, now hidden forever by lath and drywall.

Before that top beam was hoisted into its highest point, Judge Mundell said, many judges and court personnel were invited to inscribe it with a Sharpie. Most just signed their names. But then Judge Gary Donahoe stepped forward.

Donahoe, of course, had his own notorious run-ins with the County Attorney. Out from under that hammer, the judge added perhaps the most poignant hieroglyphics to the soon-to-be hidden building beam:

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” —MLK

A fitting apex, indeed.

Here is the news story on the Court Tower’s topping out.