Miami-Dade County

Judge on Miami-Dade courthouse: The money must be found

Bertila Soto, chief judge in Miami-Dade County, addresses reporters outside the county’s main courthouse on Thursday. Moving clockwise from her right, she’s flanked by Judge Marisa Tinkler Menendez, lobbyist and lawyer Jorge Luis Lopez, and Ray Abadin, incoming president of the Florida Bar.
Bertila Soto, chief judge in Miami-Dade County, addresses reporters outside the county’s main courthouse on Thursday. Moving clockwise from her right, she’s flanked by Judge Marisa Tinkler Menendez, lobbyist and lawyer Jorge Luis Lopez, and Ray Abadin, incoming president of the Florida Bar.

Miami-Dade’s legal establishment warned Thursday that the county’s courthouse situation remains a “crisis,” and asked elected leaders to find $25 million immediately to repair corroded support columns in the 1928 civil-court building.

“Nothing has changed. The crisis is still here. The money must be found,” Bertila Soto, the county’s chief judge, said in a press conference off the courthouse steps. “Delay is not an option.”

The media event came two days after Miami-Dade voters soundly rejected raising property taxes for a $390 million plan to replace the existing courthouse with a new one somewhere in downtown Miami. The money included $25 million for the columns, and Soto said Miami-Dade now needs to find replacement funds.

She was joined by Jorge Luis Lopez, a County Hall lobbyist and lawyer who helped run the referendum campaign, and Ray Abadin, incoming president of the Florida Bar. Earlier in the day, Soto, Lopez, Clerk of the Courts Harvey Ruvin and other court officials met with county administrators to discuss the next steps for the county-owned courthouse, including where to house court employees if the entire building gets closed down. Soto said some of the options include temporary trailers and putting administrative staff in existing county buildings.

County estimates say it would cost about $70 million more to refurbish the courthouse enough to have it last another 15 years, and repairs are ongoing to address leaks that are causing some mold problems and flooding. Soto said the building’s 22nd floor will once again be closed because of mold issues.

The main sticking point is how to finance a replacement courthouse, since there appears to be consensus that the current one is too small to house the civil-court system.

Mayor Carlos Gimenez, whose administration has responsibility for county court facilities, floated the idea of raising speeding-ticket fees to build a new one. Tuesday’s failure of the courthouse tax also may give an opening to All Aboard Florida, which is building a train complex near the existing courthouse, to revive its proposal to develop a new courthouse facility on its property. County Commissioner Juan C. Zapata’s proposal to divert about $78 million in earmarked judicial funds for emergency courthouse repairs is set for a committee hearing on Wednesday.

Raquel Regalado, the school board member who led the effort against the referendum, wants Miami-Dade to take another look at where it places judicial facilities and possibly spread them farther out around the county.

“Let’s have a comprehensive conversation,” Regalado said Thursday. “I really believe county court should be in the center of the county.”

Gimenez spokesman Michael Hernández said upgrading the courthouse situation goes beyond day-to-day courtroom functions. “We’re a beacon of democracy for people coming in from Latin America,” he said. “The fact is, we need to maintain these facilities.”

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