Brawley Citizens Push Back about Courthouse Closing

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County Supervisor Ryan Kelley speaks during the Brawley Courthouse closure meeting on Tuesday evening.
County Supervisor Ryan Kelley speaks during the Brawley Courthouse closure meeting on Tuesday evening.

BRAWLEY — Many concerned citizens and members of the local community held an emergency meeting Tuesday evening to discuss and fight against the closure of Brawley’s Superior Courthouse.

With the announcement of a new, 47,000-square-foot courthouse set to be built and completed in El Centro by 2019, it was also announced the Brawley courthouse will close once the new courthouse is open. The emergency meeting, which took place at the recently added event facility in Brownie’s Diner, consisted of many questions from concerned residents about how the closing of the Brawley courthouse will affect the local community.

Ryan E. Kelley, District 4 County Supervisor, was a guest speaker at the meeting and made it clear that the Imperial County Court System has no control of the decision locally and that they are being told by the state to do this.

“We’ve had conversations with the judges,” said Kelley, “and made it clear that the county, our position is that we want to maintain services in Brawley.”

“Some of the things that they brought up about the courthouse here in Brawley is that there are some security issues,” explained Kelley. “Those brought from their holding cell to the courtroom, there are  security concerns about them mingling with the judges, the bailiffs, the court staff, and the clerks. The county has already expressed this to the court system in Imperial County, we will help them address those security concerns to be able to continue to operate here. We also want to discuss the lease agreement because we want them to be able to maintain the services here. We would actually like to see them expand to a greater use of the facility.”

The floor was then opened to questions and comments from people present at the meeting. A citizen asked why the state is leaving the community with one court and no efficient way of getting to the new courthouse.

Another used the meeting to ask why the local transit system cannot be relied on throughout the day compared to larger cities.

“If you live in Bombay Beach, Palo Verde, or Salton City, then you’re going to have to find transportation to get to El Centro,” stated Kelley. “We did share the same concern to the state court system representative and to the local court administrator. They are putting the burden on the citizens that live outside of the El Centro area, especially the North End to take a bus from Niland to El Centro, that’s an all-day affair. It’s about two hours to get to El Centro.”

A concern brought up was if any studies had been done to see if the cost of maintaining the Brawley courthouse compared to building the new courthouse in El Centro. It was also believed that the local courthouse in Brawley plays a big role in the local business community.

“Economically, the North End of the county needs the courts because of the business activity it generates,” explained Mercedes Wheeler, a local attorney and the main speaker of the meeting. “The court employees and visitors, whether voluntary or involuntary, when they are here, interact with our businesses. They purchase products, they shop at our local stores, such as Imperial Hardware, Vons, Walmart, and AT&T. They use our car washes, they eat at our restaurants, sometimes they even sleep in our hotels such as the Brawley Inn. The cities of the North End need the tax money that these visitors generate. It helps pay for the fire services, the police, the streets, the city maintenance. Although the money that they spend here does not appear substantial, my father-in-law used to say, ‘If you take care of the pennies, the dollars will take care of themselves.'”

The meeting was also the starting point of organizing a plan to stop the closure of the Brawley courthouse.

“They’ve told us that in 2019 is when they’d be moving in (to the new facility in El Centro). We asked that they at least give us 12 months prior notice,” said Kelley. “We talked to the presiding judge and the court administrator. Give us 12 months prior notice before you make that move so that we can come to the table and be able to make some kind of changes in Brawley that would mitigate their costs and be able to keep the operations in Brawley. They agreed they would do that for us.”

It was suggested that door-to-door petitions, spreading the word, and contacting the local state representative would help in the fight against the closure.

For more information please contact the North End County Task Force at (760) 344-2466.

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Local attorney Mercedes Wheeler, the main speaker of the meeting, displays a flow chart which shows the process of building a courthouse in California.