Design and planning phase underway for future courtrooms at Johnson County District Court

Exterior of tall tan building with glass windows

On Thursday, Sept. 15, the Johnson County Public Building Commission gave the green light for the design and planning of future courtrooms for three new judges at Johnson County District Court.

By approving an amendment to the JE Dunn Construction Design/Build contract, the PBC authorized $245,389 on Thursday for the design and pre-construction phase of the project at the Johnson County Courthouse in downtown Olathe.

Work is expected to start in the first quarter of 2023 and take up to a year to complete.

“Funding is coming from a portion of existing budgeted contingency dollars for the new courthouse,” said Ed Eilert, chairman of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners. “There is no property tax revenue being used in this entire project, including building the new courthouse and now adding three more courtrooms. Funding is coming from the quarter-cent, 10-year public safety sales tax approved by Johnson County voters in 2016.”

In addition to the new courthouse, the public safety sales tax also has funded construction of the county’s medical examiner facility which opened in August 2020 in Olathe.

Revenue from the sales tax, which became effective on April 1, 2017, and is scheduled to sunset on March 31, 2027, is paying off Lease Revenue Bonds issued by the PBC for the public safety projects. The revised contract amount with JE Dunn Construction has been capped at $178,832,199.

Johnson County District Court Chief Judge Charles Droege welcomes the addition of three new district court judges to the 10th Judicial District of Kansas, commonly called Johnson County District Court.

“These additions will bolster an already excellent bench and enhance criminal justice and judicial services in Johnson County now and for generations to come,” Chief Judge Droege said. “The 10th Judicial District will be able to increase the number of allowable trials per week in anticipation of the reinstatement of speedy trial statutory requirements in May 2023.”

The new judges will be chosen from a list of five finalists submitted in early September to Kansas Governor Laura Kelly by the 10th Judicial District Nominating Commission after interviews with 27 candidates from 31 submissions. The governor has up to 60 days to appoint three judges from the finalists.

It is anticipated, one judge will be assigned to the criminal court docket, another designated to family court and the remaining judge to split duties between family and civil court.

“We have not yet finalized a plan for how we will share space during the build-out. The proposed assignment of new judges will allow for additional jury trials to decrease the backlog created during the pandemic. Additional judges will reduce case delay and shorten time to disposition,” said District Court Administrator Laura Brewer.

The new judges are among 14 new district court judges and nine magistrate judges authorized statewide by the 2022 Kansas Legislature. The last time a new district court judge position was received in Johnson County was 2007 which resulted in the creation of Division 19 when Judge Sara Welch was appointed by Governor Kathleen Sebelius.

With the three new appointments, the 10th Judicial District in Johnson County will have 22 district court judges and four magistrate judges.

“We are lucky to have two high-profile jury trial courtrooms on the second floor that are not currently assigned to a specific judge. It is likely those courtrooms will be used regularly during the build-out,” Brewer said. “We continue to use remote hearings, when possible, especially in family and civil cases. Use of remote hearings does allow for some flexibility between judges for temporary space-sharing.”

The new courthouse, which opened at the start of 2021, was designed to add future courtrooms, as needed, and is expected to serve the county’s justice system for 75 years. It is the fourth courthouse in the 167-year history of Johnson County.

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