New judicial center still priority for local officials

The state Administrative Office of the Courts has added a new courtroom to the Morton J. Holbrook Judicial Center in downtown Owensboro and is in the process of constructing a second courtroom.

But city and county officials say convincing the state’s court system to build a new judicial center for the county is still a top priority.

A new judicial center is one of the Greater Owensboro Chamber of Commerce’s community priorities, and city and county officials say the Holbrook Center on East Second Street could be redeveloped into commercial or residential property if court operations could be moved to a new facility.

A new judicial center is “way up on our list” of community priorities, Mayor Tom Watson said Tuesday.

“That space could certainly be repurposed and revitalized,” Watson said. “Right now, (the judicial center) is right in the middle of what we are trying to repurpose and revitalize.”

Daviess County owns the building and leases it to the AOC. Last year, the county built a courtroom for Daviess Family Court, and work is currently underway on a second Family Court courtroom. The county is reimbursed for the facility’s renovation projects by the AOC.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly said there are issues with the Holbrook center, such as parking for people coming to court.

“They (the AOC) continue to pour money into a facility that is really too small for the needs,” Mattingly said. The building houses Circuit, Family and District courts, and the driver’s license office.

“Now it serves three District courts, two Circuit courts and two Family courts in a building that was too small to begin with,” Mattingly said.

The AOC would have to conduct a needs assessment to determine if a new court building is needed before anything could happen with the Holbrook center, Mattingly said.

“The problem is it’s not up to fiscal court. It’s up to the AOC,” Mattingly said.

Watson said the Holbrook center could be redeveloped.

“With a new hotel coming and (the city) trying to get more people downtown, it could be a bed-and-breakfast, or it could be retail,” Watson said.

Watson said the city would be willing to partner with the fiscal court in an effort to get a new judicial center built.

According to Jamie Neal, AOC public information specialist, a new judicial center for Daviess County is not in the AOC’s six-year capital plan.

When asked about the Holbrook center being a Chamber of Commerce priority, county attorney Claud Porter said the improvements to the facility, when complete, will probably keep it functional for the next several years.

“I think AOC wants to stay where they are,” Porter said. “My guess is it will be quite some time before they are willing to investigate any other arrangements.”

“I think they believe, and rightfully so, they have spent a lot of money here” to remodel the building, Porter said. Once all the remodeling is done, the changes “will provide space and function for a number of years,” Porter said.

“My impression is they are spending the money here (on the Holbrook center) because we need it here, and they can delay or prevent adding a new judicial center in Daviess County,” Porter said.

Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Candance Brake said the renovations to the building provided space for family court, “something our community has been in dire need of for many years.”

But Brake said the renovations “do not address the many other needs, both current and future, of our court system.”