Court administrator Chris Bleuenstein remembers what criminal court proceedings were like before the South Court Tower was built.
“The halls were very cramped. There was virtually no seating for the public. People sat on the floor,” he says. “The public defenders, prosecutors, and adult probation would come from other buildings.”
Chris managed the staff in the East Court Building in those days. He says it was clear the county needed a bigger, more modern space for the growing criminal caseload.
(Before: Cramped Halls)
It took three years of planning and another two years of construction to make the South Court Tower a reality. The $330 million project remains the most expensive capital project in Maricopa County history. “It is an excellent building that serves as a national example of how a courthouse should be built,” Chris says.
He points to a design that ensures the public, judicial staff, and in-custody defendants do not cross paths. “This has greatly improved the safety of all three groups,” Chris says.
The criminal department of the Superior Court handles approximately 30,000 felony cases per year, many of them in the South Court Tower space. And there is more room to grow. The building has four and a half floors of additional space that can be turned into courtrooms when needed.
“When we think about capital projects, we try to imagine not just what needs we have now, but what needs we’ll have 10 or 20 years from now,” says former Supervisor Denny Barney, District 1. “I know it was controversial at the time, but the demands on our criminal justice system grow every year and this court tower can accommodate that growth.”
What residents experience now is a far cry from those crowded, dimly lit hallways that Chris remembers a decade ago. “We are able to provide due process of law in a respectful way and also adhere to speedy trial guarantees. This not only serves the interest of alleged defendants but also the community as a whole.”