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Bad building design

I have two questions about this story, which is about the poor design of the Harris County Criminal Justice Center downtown.

Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos calls the building at 1201 Franklin “the most poorly designed criminal justice center in the United States of America.”

The main problem, courthouse users say, is that too many people try to use too few elevators starting about 8:30 every weekday morning. The building opened in 2000 and the problem has existed since day one.

Possible solutions may be on the way, county officials said last week. Those include smarter docketing, renovating the first floor and spending millions to install four new elevators.


The root of the problem seems to be that planners did not understand that defendants out on bail, defense lawyers and prosecutors constantly move between floors using the elevators.

The four stairwells, secreted behind heavy wooden doors in each corner of the building, are seldom used.

Defendants sometimes have to go between three different floors to check in, pay fees and go to court. Hundreds of defense lawyers and prosecutors float around the building’s 11 floors of courtrooms all morning.

1. How is it that the “planners” did not foresee these problems when the building was being designed? Did they not understand how the system worked? I suppose perhaps something about the way things worked may have changed between the design phase and the grand opening, but if so the story doesn’t say. Or did they make bad assumptions, such as that people in an unfamiliar building would seek out the stairways instead of waiting for the elevators that are right in front of them?

2. How exactly is it that it’s taken ten years for these issues to be addressed? I understand that building new elevators is not a project that is undertaken lightly, but most of the other fixes are administrative in nature. What took them so long?

Murray Newman, who commented on this story before it went online, also wrote about this issue back in May, suggesting that scheduling changes could help a lot:

Why do Harris County Criminal Courts at law make all people on bond come to court every 2-3 weeks? Why don’t the courts give the defendant’s lawyers enough time to investigate the case and then come back to court when they are ready to do something on the case, like plead or go to trial?

This is completely unnecessary and a monumental waste of time for lawyers, defendants (people who have real lives and real jobs yet people who are being forced to take off work for almost a full day while their case is pending, people who are “presumed” at this point to be innocent). Why can’t Harris County follow proper manners and etiquette and extend a little professional courtesy to the people charged with an offense and the lawyers representing them and allow the parties to appear at mandatory court dates less frequently?

In Galveston County, they actually let you come to court about once every 6 months so you can actually have time to work on your case. Montgomery County will give you a 3 month reset. Fort Bend and Brazoria also show the same courtesy. Harris County, however, will make a person come to court about 5 times in a 3 month period.

Why does Harris County do this?

There’s also an interesting comment from one of the aforementioned planners, which suggests they did see this coming but were disregarded. Well, at least now I know.

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