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 Councilman and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, center, before the Community Civil Rights Forum

How do you assess an event’s success? Various ways, I imagine. Did attendees seem engaged? Were the panelists timely and relevant? Did you pack the room?

Last evening’s first (of many, we hope) Community Civil Rights Forum, hosted by the United States Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke, fulfilled the first two criteria. Let’s hope poor attendance doesn’t lead his office to curtail his efforts at outreach and communication. Both qualities have been a long time coming, and we need them to hang around for a spell.

The forum was held Tuesday, July 6, at South Mountain High School. The site’s auditorium is cavernous. Even with a few of the cylindrical space-sharing “pods” rotated closed, no one could call the space “intimate.” And so it was that 40 or so Arizonans sat in the comfortable seats to hear Burke and the seven panelists address civil rights laws such as official misconduct and hate crimes.

A main feature of the evening was a PowerPoint presentation by AUSA Allison Bachus and FBI Special Agent Frank Farley. They detailed the process and tools of hate crimes prosecution. Those tools include the Mathew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act, signed into law by President Obama last year.

The presentation had a little something for everybody. Those who wanted detail about the elements of the crime and how prosecutors could win their case came away satisfied. Those who just wanted an overview learned that the U.S. Department of Justice has a heightened interest in protecting civil rights.

As one panelist said, “This may be a small crowd, but what a difference an administration makes.”

The PowerPoint was the meat of the matter, but the heart and soul of the evening emerged when the panelists—and audience members—sounded off about their hopes and expectations as American citizens.

State Senator Leah Landrum-Taylor said, “We all want to move in a direction where people feel safe. Knowing that there is an active [U.S. Attorney’s] office is critical.”

Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr. also praised the new United States Attorney.

“Dennis Burke has stepped up to the plate for us. But I’m troubled that here in 2010 we are still talking about the same issues as we did 50 years ago.”

Surprisingly, it was a full hour before anyone uttered the phrase “SB1070,” the moniker for the newest Arizona immigration law. That very morning, the news had broken that the U.S. Department of Justice had filed suit against Arizona, alleging that the law was unconstitutional.

Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson interviewed by Channel 12 News

I must confess surprise that it took until 7:00 pm for someone—it was Representative Campbell—to mention that morning’s press conference lauding the lawsuit and the arrival of the feds on the matter. It seems that everyone was on best behavior, trying not to knock off kilter the U.S. Attorney’s forum by turning it into an anti-SB1070 rally.

Also on the panel was Michael Johnson, Phoenix City Councilman, former police officer—and unwilling recipient of police power this past March. At an early morning fire scene in his own neighborhood, Johnson had been handcuffed and allegedly thrown to the ground by a Phoenix police officer. A confidential agreement eventually was reached between the City and their own injured Councilman, so we cannot say how it was resolved. But before and during Tuesday’s forum, there was little light between Burke and Johnson, who engaged in what appeared to be friendly and extensive conversation.

Phoenix Councilman Michael Johnson

That recent history was impossible to ignore as Johnson spoke.

“Civil rights is not a color issue,” he said. “It is a human rights issue.”

He cited some of the most common missteps of authorities, including false arrest.

“It is important to have somewhere to go if you think you’ve been wronged, besides just the police department itself.”

Not long after, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox, in the audience, praised the forum and added another topic hovering over the auditorium.

“We have a man who abuses this community to no end. That man is Joe Arpaio.”

But not all in the room agreed that the prosecution of undocumented immigrants was a bad approach. One man said, “I support SB1070 and feel that my rights are violated when I see signs warning me ‘Don’t Go Here’ because it’s a drug-smuggling and human-smuggling corridor.”

“That’s wrong,” he continued. “I am not a racist, but can’t we stop this from happening?”

Burke expressed sympathy with the difficulties that residents face, but he was not about to undermine his department’s own lawsuit.

“I share your concerns about the impact on individuals, but a state law cannot be a substitute for frustration. At the end of the day the American people and the U.S. Congress have to change things. But frustration doesn’t make every action by a state constitutional.”

As the event ended, it was easy to judge the evening based on the number of empty spaces in the voluminous parking lot. But on another scale—which compared the singular evening to the lack of any such evenings over a decade or so—it was a rousing success.

We’ve always been privileged to have a professional U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona. At the end of the day, though, their marching orders have always come from DOJ in Washington. And in the auditorium of South Mountain High School, you could hear that the band was starting to sing a new tune.

Here’s looking forward to the next forum.