EL CENTRO – In an effort to continue providing services in the northern part of the county, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors, with a 5-0 unanimous vote on August 10, approved a resolution objecting to the closure of the Brawley Courthouse subsequent to the new county courthouse being built in El Centro.
In January, the Judicial Council of California released a notice of the proposed construction of the new Imperial County Criminal Courthouse in El Centro. Construction of the new courthouse is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2019. The notice further states that with the completion of the new courthouse, there will no longer be a need for the Brawley Courthouse and thus it will be closing, moving all services provided in the north end court to the El Centro courthouse.
“The Brawley Courthouse offers accessibility to the courts and also it enhances the overall county and county services for the unfortunate,” commented Ryan Kelley, District 4 supervisor, during the meeting.
The Imperial County Superior Court System and its predecessors have operated full services court facilities in Brawley for over 65 years. Opponents of the closure say closing the courthouse would create physical barriers to judicial access, significant economic harm to the Brawley area, long lines and longer distances to courts. These changes would impact victims, defendants, lawyers, police and fire departments, families, businesses, and the entire Imperial County region alike, according to those against the closure.
According to Imperial County CEO Ralph Cordova, the proposed elimination of the court services in an area serving predominately low-income minority communities and elderly and individuals with disabilities effectively shuts the courthouse doors on many of the county’s most vulnerable residents, and in circumstances where meaningful access to justice makes a difference.
Kelley added that the action taken by the board does not prevent the new courthouse development on Wake Avenue. It is mainly focused on maintaining services in the northern part of Imperial County.
Currently, Brawley courthouse facilities serve the communities of Brawley, Westmorland, Calipatria, Niland, Bombay Beach, North Shore, and Salton Sea. These areas comprise over 23 percent of the population of Imperial County, representing a substantial portion of elderly and/or disabled residents, including a low-income, minority population with high unemployment levels.
Imperial County Superior Court Judge Christopher Plourd addressed the board and said the court cannot take an official position on the matter. Furthermore, he explained that due to state cuts, the new courthouse might be in jeopardy or might not be built at all.
“The courthouse has been in a long construction phase for building a new courthouse on Wake Avenue that started about seven years ago, that is administered by a state-wide committee that deals with court construction, rehabilitation and repairs of all courthouses within the State of California,” explained Plourd.
“During the budget crisis a few years ago, the court construction had a significant amount of funding stripped from it in addition to modifications made to the traffic fines, therefore diminishing the funds and affecting the construction of new courthouses. Just recently, we were informed that all of the courthouses in the State of California are in jeopardy including ours here in Imperial County. At this point, the construction of the new courthouse does not look good.”
Due to the delay in construction, Plourd said the state has already advised them to start considering a “plan B.”
“’Plan B’ means increasing our footprint and services in Brawley as opposed to closing it, because essentially we are losing the lead on a piece of property on the plaza that is our traffic division. We have our administrative division out there,” said Plourd.
Plourd also encouraged the board to speak to local legislators and express the needs of local communities in the Valley.
“All of the local judges in Imperial County see the need that is being expressed by this resolution,” said Plourd. “The need to provide court services and justice to all areas of Imperial County, which historically, this part of the county has a broad reach. The decision of closing the Brawley courthouse is a state decision, the local courthouses do not make those decisions. It was essentially made seven years ago and just like you, we are looking for solutions to provide the services that need to be provided.”
Also expressing her concern was Mary Harmon, the former Imperial County University of California Cooperative Extension 4-H advisor, who said closing the Brawley courthouse would further contribute to the sense of isolation already felt in the north end of the county.
“The Judicial Council of California does not live in Brawley and have no idea the hardship the north end faces in getting services that they feel they deserve,” said Harmon.
Brawley Councilwoman Norma Kastner Jauregui expressed her concern about a lack of reliable transportation for the north end population including Niland, Calipatria, Bombay Beach and Salton City.
“A lot of people might spend all day in El Centro trying to take care of a small matter and maybe not even be able to take care of the matter the same day. It is a true hardship,” said Jauregui. “It is our job to represent the community and their needs to ensure that justice and equity is not compromised for our cities. We need local, regional and state support to keep our Brawley courthouse opened.”
Subsequent to approving the resolution, Kelley directed the County Chief Executive Office to investigate the analysis performed by the Judicial Council in the determination of closing the Brawley courthouse in addition to involving local legislators to assist with the decision making.
“We need to talk to our legislators in developing local input into these decisions so that they have community input at a local level, and not in Sacramento or San Francisco where they have open quorums in these discussions that include local input,” said Kelley.