Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Family Court Remodel Sorely Needed Says Chief Judge

It's a "safety issue" says Judge Carl Ashley.

By - Aug 24th, 2023 01:32 pm

Milwaukee County Courthouse. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

Milwaukee’s criminal justice system is facing many challenges at the moment, many of which are connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. But when it comes to buildings, the court system has been struggling for years.

The county is preparing to remodel the seventh floor of the Milwaukee County Courthouse. The floor is home to a critical function of the circuit court system: Family Court.

The court is regularly the jurisdiction of emotionally fraught causes like divorce and custody proceedings.

“We often talk about homicide and the serious matters that are taking place in the Safety Building, and that’s another issue, but Family Court issues are probably even more dangerous,” said Chief Judge Carl Ashley at an Aug. 10 Capital Improvements Committee.

The chief judge said the remodel is a “safety issue” and that it’s integral to providing access to family court for county residents.

The layout of the seventh floor has staff “squeezed together with very serious issues being addressed, where people are not happy,” Ashley said. Conflict during Family Court proceedings “happens too often,” the chief judge said.

An initial phase of work was included in the 2023 budget, focused on HVAC, electrical systems, flooring, carpeting and fire suppression systems, among other things. Phase 2 will involve a $4.2 million remodeling that should alleviate some of the issues Ashley described at an Aug. 10 meeting of the county’s Capital Improvements Committee (CIC).

Currently, there is little to no separation between the staff areas and the public areas in the family courtrooms. “You’ll find, and there has been cases, where people are sitting in some of the rooms and chairs for our staff, because there’s no barriers to stop them,” Ashley said.

The chief judge was advocating for the project’s inclusion in the 2024 budget at the CIC meeting. County Executive David Crowley will release his recommended budget for 2024 in September. The county board will spend October reviewing the budget and making changes in time for a final vote in early November.

“This remodeling of the seventh floor is going to allow us to create such a better environment for not only the staff, but also our community,” Ashley said.

The chief judge also noted that a remodeled 7th floor would allow for more efficient use of sheriff’s deputies. “They do a great job,” he said. “But they would have less work if they were cordoned off areas where they wouldn’t have to worry about other people being involved.”

The family court project did not make it into the committee’s recommendation to the county executive because it did not have at least 90% of the design work done, affecting its scoring in comparison to other projects. But other projects in similar circumstances have ultimately made it into previous budgets.

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Categories: MKE County, Real Estate

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