THE CIRCUS IS IN TOWN

By Brian M. Roberts

Today was the first day of business for the Harris County Criminal courts after Hurricane Harvey and, oh boy was it something! I have heard some people describe what is to be our journey for the next six to eight months as the CJC is repaired (translated: year to eighteen months) as the “new normal” but I wouldn’t use the word “normal” to describe the atmosphere in the civil courthouse today. Shock and horror, yes. Normal, no. The civil folks are having to share their Taj Mahal (it’s actually a county building but not if you ask them) with the unwashed masses. You know, criminal defense lawyers and their clients. The looks on the faces of the civil lawyers and court staff as we took over their little fiefdom was priceless. Like they were in danger of being molested or worse, talked to by one of “those people.”

Only two elevators for the upper floors were working, which is par for the course at the CJC everyday, but the civil folks were beside themselves at the sea of humanity trying to catch a ride to court. They stomped around and grumbled, “This is bullshit.” People were lining up like cash was being given away on the upper floors. Except for the one lady who was screaming to get off the elevator an nobody moved because nobody wanted to lose their spot.

When I finally got to court via the freight elevator, I searched the empty hallways for my client. You see, the civil courthouse is considerably bigger than the CJC even though on any given day you could fire a cannon in the hallway of the civil courthouse and not hit a lawyer. Makes perfect sense to design a small building for use and occupation by the most people (CJC) and a big one where there isn’t a fraction of the traffic and use (civil courthouse). I think this genius design came from the same brain trust that thought it would be a great idea to put flood doors underground and build the jury assembly room underground with an atrium to street level. So flood waters could come in through the open ceiling. Kind of like designing a submarine with a convertible top, but I digress. Anyway, when I got to the courtroom, folks with criminal cases were seated on one side and the folks who had civil business were sitting on the other  and generally bewildered by the frenzied activity we brought into their world.

But, we showed the civil folks we’re just as good as they are. Yes sir, we sure did! Like when one criminal district court judge threatened to have another criminal district court judge arrested for refusing to get off the bench when it was his court’s turn to use the courtroom. That was really cool. I don’t know what the civil folks are so worked up about.

And this was just day one. Three hundred sixty four to go. Or so. Give or take.

2 thoughts on “THE CIRCUS IS IN TOWN

  1. The Civil Courts building was opened 6 years after the CJC. Its design was in part informed by the already apparent disasters of the older building (the Allison wipeout and elevator nightmares of its opening few years). The halcyon days of the Civil Courts building were before any family courts moved there, as it was very user friendly for civil practitioners, with no waits and empty restrooms. That said, I always had the sense the empty space was not optimizing taxpayer dollars, and the vacuum would be absorbed in some way. As a fellow Silver State licensee, I will point out that we are now facing what the Clark County Regional Justice Center faces every day (all courts in one building and a very diverse elevator line). The difference is that while the building is the same size as the RJC in Vegas, the population is more than twice the size. It should be fun for all of us going forward.

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