Talks to return court functions to Pagosa Springs called ‘frank and productive’

Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 7:48 PM
The 6th Judicial District is negotiating a private lease to return some court functions to Pagosa Springs after air-quality issues forced court operations to move to the La Plata County Courthouse in Durango.
A meeting Wednesday between officials from the 6th Judicial District and Archuleta County about court operations was described as “frank” and “productive” in a news release issued by the Colorado Judicial Department. Court operations were moved from Pagosa Springs to Durango in September after an array of air-quality issues caused employees to become ill at the Archuleta courthouse.

A meeting Wednesday to find a short-term solution to woes at the Archuleta County Courthouse, which have driven court operations from Pagosa Springs to Durango, was described as “frank” and “productive.”

The description of the meeting came in a news release issued by the Colorado Judicial Department. The release apparently came from Archuleta County Commissioner Ronnie Maez and 6th Judicial District Chief Judge Jeffrey Wilson.

However, when Maez was contacted by telephone, he was unaware a news release had been issued in his name, and he declined further comment.

The news release also said the Colorado Judicial Department is negotiating with a private party to lease space in Pagosa Springs to provide a clerk’s office, probationary services and a video conference room for simple court proceedings. The news release said the Judicial Department would like to have the short-term facility open in January.

Jon Sarche, spokesman for the Colorado Judicial Department, said because the agency is involved in negotiations, he couldn’t divulge any further information.

A health impact assessment study conducted for the Colorado Judicial Department and released Dec. 14 concluded a return to the Archuleta County Courthouse should not occur until an array of indoor air-quality issues, which have led many employees to complain of eye irritation, sinus issues, coughing and fatigue, are completely remedied.

Judge Wilson ordered all courthouse proceedings stopped Sept. 6 and moved to the La Plata County Courthouse in Durango after learning of multiple reports of health-related cases involving county and judicial employees who work in the Archuleta courthouse. Two sheriff’s deputies have passed out inside the building, and three deputies have been admitted to intensive-care units at hospitals.

Woes in Archuleta County’s buildings have been mounting. A flood in April 2015 closed the county jail, requiring inmates to travel 60 miles to Durango for housing at the La Plata County Jail. Archuleta County’s jail remains closed, and Archuleta County continues to transport prisoners back and forth between Pagosa Springs and Durango.

Archuleta County Commissioner Steve Wadley told the Herald earlier this month that building a new jail is a top priority.

“We are transporting inmates 120 miles (to and from Durango), and I’m fearful for deputies’ safety,” he said.

In November, Archuleta County voters rejected a sales tax increase to pay for a new jail and Sheriff’s Office.

The Archuleta County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, Treasurer’s Office and Assessor’s Office all remain in the building abandoned by the courts. Wadley said those agencies concur with the county’s effort to first address building a new jail and providing new space for the Sheriff’s Office.

The meeting between Archuleta County and the 6th Judicial District on Wednesday would seemingly indicate a more productive relationship between the two parties in an effort to return some court operations to Pagosa Springs.

Wadley had described a difficult relationship between Archuleta County and the 6th Judicial District.

Wadley said earlier this month, “I don’t know if we have a constructive dialogue.”

He added the county lacks the funds to meet the ultimate wish of the 6th Judicial District: a new courthouse.

“We have $4 million to $5 million in reserve, and you know how far that’s going to get you with new construction,” he said.