Nobody can deny that the Dade County Courthouse in downtown Miami is in bad shape. The old 1928 building is literally falling apart, has toxic air, asbestos, mold and termites, and the basement where records are stored is flooding. Something needs to be done.
The problem is, Miami-Dade voters said “no” in a big way to a $393 million bond measure to build a new courthouse, a plan touted by Miami-Dade Circuit Chief Judge Bertila Soto and Building Blocks for Justice, a political action committee formed by the legal community whose members work there.
Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, daughter of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, opposed the plan, saying the county shouldn’t rush into the process and that other locations and funding sources should be considered.
The Democratic Black Caucus of Florida, representing 200,000 black Democrats in Miami-Dade County, and Opa-locka Commissioner Dottie Johnson joined in opposing the plan. Regalado wants Miami-Dade to consider partnerships with municipalities to build courthouse facilities farther west than in Miami and bring the courts closer to the people.
Regalado’s plan seems to make a lot of sense. Back when the old courthouse was built there were not many people living in the west side of the county. Now the Kendall and West Kendall areas, as well as others to the south, are densely populated and the traffic is terrible. Parking downtown is bad, too. Public transportation is no faster, sometimes slower and more complicated. The courthouse is used for civil and traffic cases, while criminal cases are handled in the Richard Gerstein Justice Building at 1351 NW 12 St.
Homestead currently is building a brand new city hall. Why couldn’t there be space in that plan for a small room that could function as a courtroom so an impoverished person who wants to defend a ticket wouldn’t need to take five bus transfers to get to the courthouse to exercise his or her rights? Other cities could allocate space for that as well.
Why can’t we take Baker Act proceedings initial hearings and save millions — as the Grand Jury pointed out — by holding the initial hearing via teletechnology as we currently do DUI hearings?
Why can’t we bring justice to the people rather than making the people go to a central location for justice?
At least, let’s look at this in a comprehensive manner as Raquel Regalado suggests and examine how to approach this from a countywide perspective, not just an old courthouse mindset that belongs to the past.