aramie County is growing. When friends who live elsewhere ask me about Cheyenne's population, my "go-to" response has historically been 59,466 (the figure you see on the signs posted as you come into town). I was recently reminded, however, that as of 2010 the United States Census Bureau listed 91,738 as the county's total population. Our corner of the state has continued to enjoy steady population growth since the 2010 Census (current estimates are just shy of 100,000), and this increase has placed an increased burden and demand on our District Court.
Since 2013, the number of new cases filed in Laramie County District Court has steadily increased, from 2,780 in 2013 to over 3,300 in 2016. At present, each of the three District judges in Laramie County handles a case load in excess of 1,100 cases. While each of our District judges strives to hear and resolve cases in a timely and efficient manner, this increase in caseload has caused the citizens of Laramie County to experience significant delays in resolution of the cases that come before the District Court.
Given Laramie County's growing population, and resultant caseload, a state-wide weighted work load study recently recommended that Laramie County have a total of 4.46 District judges. In response to the need for additional judicial resources here, in 2016 the Wyoming Legislature passed a law creating a much-needed fourth District Court judge position in Laramie County. That same law does not allow the new District judge position to be filled until Laramie County provides an additional courtroom, as well as chambers and staff space, to accommodate that fourth judge. However, existing footprint and floor plan of the courthouse cannot accommodate a fourth District judge and necessary support without substantial changes.
In 2016, 28 of the 31 jury trials held in our county were criminal jury trials but only two of our existing three courtrooms have holding cells, which are essential to accommodate incarcerated individuals. Over the last several years, our support staff has consistently, and masterfully, juggled courtroom assignments and schedules for our 3 current judges to accommodate the increasing caseload and the dramatic increase in jury trials. An additional District judge, together with an additional courtroom and holding cell, are desperately needed to address this increasing demand.
The three existing courtrooms are inadequate, both in size and technological capacity, to accommodate large criminal or civil jury trials, or cases involving multiple parties. At present, the largest of our three courtrooms can seat only 60 individuals when, for some of our larger criminal cases, our clerk's office must summon 100 or more prospective jurors. Because of the limited seating, it becomes necessary for the court to divide the jury selection process into two phases, having 50 jurors report in the morning and another 50 report in the afternoon. This adds to the time needed to complete our trials, and imposes additional time on jurors as they fulfill their civic duty. A larger courtroom, together with modernization of existing courtrooms to accommodate technological advances since the building's construction over twenty years ago, are needed to effectively, and efficiently, accommodate our current caseload.
According to mechanical systems professionals the typical design lifespan of commercial heating, cooling and air handling systems (HVAC) is approximately 20 years. Given that the current courthouse annex was constructed in 1995 the systems have performed as planned, albeit with increasing failures and repair costs. New wiring to accommodate technology and security upgrades are likewise necessary. Logically it follows that when a major renovation is being contemplated, repairs and upgrades to systems such as these should be included.Â With this project HVAC physical plant upgrades will occur, variable air volume boxes will be replaced and information technology systems wiring will be upgraded.
If passed by the voters in Laramie County, Proposition 1 of the Specific Purpose Sales and Use Tax (the "Sixth Penny Tax") would address the current deficiencies in the Laramie County courthouse by:
Successful passage of Proposition 1 will underwrite many critical improvements to the courthouse, enhancing the delivery of justice in Laramie County for years to come.