Sat, Feb

Cottonwood courthouse opens Friday

Cottonwood News

When Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch cuts the red ribbon to officially open the new Cottonwood Municipal Court building Friday, July 30, Chief Magistrate A. Douglas LaSota and his staff will be cheering for more than a roomy new work place.

The new court building means air conditioning that works and spacious conference rooms for litigants and their lawyers, people who were once required to meet in the parking lot next to the old courthouse due to lack of space.

For regular visitors, the addition of restrooms for the public might be one of the greatest improvements, according to Court Administrator Janie Randal.

The old courthouse, located at 824 N. Main St., was crowded with people and file cabinets. It was hot and stuffy in the summer and cold and wet in the winter, LaSota said.

The biggest problem presented by the old building was black mold, which found its way into rooms where files were stored, contaminating paperwork and posing a health hazard to workers.

The Arizona Industrial Commission Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited the city for the violations in November, City Attorney Steve Horton said.

Work to remove mold from the building was commenced in July 2009, before the complaints were filed. Two sections of the court building were sealed off at that time, Horton said.

After meeting with commission officials to resolve the complaints, the city decided to move the court to a building at 665 E. Mingus Ave. that formerly housed a carpeting supply store.

Renovations, which were underway in May, were sufficiently completed by July to allow the move. Court staff and volunteers put in extra hours to make the new court building ready for business. Doors opened to the public July 12.

In addition to dedicating the court building, Berch is expected to recognize LaSota’s effort to increase the collection of outstanding fines and speed up the time it takes to process cases.

For example, when LaSota first took the bench in April 2009, many DUI cases were unresolved more than 180 days after the date of the citation, in violation of a deadline mandated by the Arizona Supreme Court.

All DUI cases are now 100 percent in compliance with the 180-day deadline, according to an April 13 report to Cottonwood City Council.

“Timeliness is obviously important to avoid problems with fading memories and to make sure defendants who are proven guilty receive swift yet fair resolutions of their cases,” LaSota said.

The court is also more active in collecting fines, LaSota said.

“This court stays on top of payment issues with defendants,” he said. “When a defendant is sentenced, he or she is advised that the court will work with them if they ever have hardship making a payment or making one on time.”

Working with defendants in this way has increased the amount and frequency of collections during the last year, LaSota said.