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Judge Philippa James has been on the Oklahoma City Municipal Court bench for 20 years and has lived with the problems of the old building that long. She was ready for a new space.

And so, she started the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Municipal Court Building with a big smile and said “let’s get it on!”

Everyone laughed. They knew what she meant. It’s time.

Judge Philippa James speaks
“For the last several years we have been working hard to make our municipal court system more user-friendly.” – Presiding Judge Philippa James

James became a municipal judge July 1, 1997, and then was named the presiding judge in 2013.

Since then, as head of the Municipal Court, she has been in the middle of plans for the new building for much of that time in addition to her usual docket and management duties.

“We have maintained traditional courtroom decor with 21st century technology,” James told the packed courtroom in the new courthouse.

Ribbon is cut for new Muni Courthouse
Ribbon is cut for new OKC Muni Courthouse

“For the last several years we have been working hard to make our municipal court system more user-friendly,” said James. “We have enacted policies, procedures and reforms to make our court more about helping those who appear here and less about intimidation.”

James gave a humorous example of even small advantages of the new courthouse.

“Our financial services manager, John Lemieux is getting his first office with a window after 34 years of service with the city.”

The ribbon was cut and tours of the building went on for several hours.

Reactions

After the ceremony Free Press asked James what it’s like to finally see the new building about to open.

Judge Donald Kiffin
Judge Donald Kiffin shows a visitor one of the many good views

“It feels great. It’s a beautiful building,” she said.

Judge Donald Kiffin has spent 17 years on the bench in the old building, the last two and one-half fulltime.

“This is great,” he said with a big smile after the ceremony. “I’m ready.”

During the ceremony Mayor Mick Cornett praised everyone involved in the yearslong process of developing the concept of the courthouse and building it.

Entryway atrium
Entryway atrium

“Once again, not only have we met, but we have exceeded the expectations of our voters,” Cornett said.

Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee was happy about the outcome.

When we asked if the new courthouse would help the people of his ward, he said, “Anything that improves the judicial system helps the citizens in everybody’s ward.”

The numbers

Here are the basics of the new building at 701 Couch Drive on the northwest corner of the Civic Center District that includes the Civic Center and City Hall:

  • $22.8 million total cost
  • 65,000 square feet
  • 140,000 hearings per year
  • 6 courtrooms
  • 1 courtroom is equipped for training judges and staff
  • 3 pay windows outside of the security checkpoint for quick payment of fines

Furniture is being delivered daily with Oct. 27 being the planned moving day.

New courthouse solutions

The new building is loaded with features developed by judges, staff and architects to solve some of the functional problems of the old building.

Cindy Richard, Deputy Municipal Counselor
“I think it’s going to be so user friendly.” – Cindy Richard, Deputy Municipal Counselor

In the role of the top city prosecutor, Cindy Richard has spent plenty of time struggling with the overcrowded old building.

She was happy to be a part of the process in developing the new one.

“I think it’s going to be so user friendly,” city prosecutor Cindy Richard told Free Press. “ADG [architectural firm] were really fantastic. They listened to all of the concerns we brought from the other building.”

Court Administrator LaShawn Thompson told Free Press about the most helpful new features of the new courthouse that will help the function of the court and those who have to come there for a court date.

  • State-of-the-art sound system
  • State-of-the-art audio and video recording of proceedings
  • State-of-the-art training courtroom
  • Plug-and-play technology and large monitors for video presentations during the trial
  • 42-inch monitors in the hallways where docket information with courtroom assignments are clearly displayed
  • Accessible kiosk with three sides in the lobby where visitors can look up docket information
  • Attorney-client conference rooms outside each courtroom
  • Fully accessible courtrooms including the judge’s bench
  • Many windows for more natural light
Lobby interior - Municipal Courthouse
Lobby interior – Municipal Courthouse

The courthouse will house municipal judges, court administrator and staff, court clerk’s office and its staff, municipal counselors and criminal justice division and the OKCPD court detail unit.

Eventually, the old police station and municipal court building will be demolished for a parking plaza.

The need

Any of the judges and staff who have spent any time in the old building can quickly reel off the struggles with its function.

The old building was built in 1940 and added onto multiple times over the years.

In recent years parts had flooded creating immediate problems, but also longer-term concerns about mold.

Presiding Judge Philippa James
Judge James gave tours to several people herself after the ceremony.

For the public who had to visit, it could be an overwhelming experience just finding one’s way through the labyrinth of hallways to the right courtroom at the right time.

Tightly-packed hallways were hard to get through and signs were hard to read.

Attorneys had no place to confer with their clients except in hushed tones in the overcrowded hallways.

Technology in the courtrooms was minimal with attorneys sometimes having to approach the bench with their laptops to show judges video as a part of their case.


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