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County approves upgrades to courthouse

By Carla O'Day

Plans to remodel part of the north tower of the Second Judicial District Court were approved Tuesday by Washoe County commissioners, citing growing population since the courthouse was constructed 25 years ago.

The project was awarded to local contractor Sullivan Structures LLC. Work will consist of remodeling existing space into a multipurpose hearing room and adding a court resource assistance center for the public ($259,610), along with adding an open office area ($67,545) and purchasing various equipment ($146,960). A separate contingency fund is being set at $27,247.

Work is scheduled to be completed within 120 calendar days once Sullivan gets a notice to proceed.

The courthouse’s north tower, 1 S. Sierra St., was built in 1996 and contains the Second Judicial District Court Family Division, Self Help Center, and Reno Justice Court.

Located on the first and second floors, justice court processes civil, misdemeanors, and felony cases. Six justices of the peace typically serve on Reno Justice Court, although Department 2 is temporarily vacant due to the recent retirement of Judge Pete Sferrazza.

After the Department 2 vacancy is filled in November 2022 election, Reno Justice Court will be back to having six judges but only five courtrooms.

According to the Nevada State Demographer’s 2019 Population Estimates for Nevada Judicial Townships, Reno had a population of 302,674 as of 2019. Pursuant to state law, the townships in Washoe County are entitled to one justice of the peace per every 50,000 residents. As the population of Reno Township continues to grow, the court will ultimately either need to create another judicial department or make other arrangements, such as hiring a court master or referee.

County officials say the hearing room will be able to increase the number of cases Reno Justice Court can hear. The room will have modular furnishings to allow the court to repurpose the space on an as-needed basis. In addition to using the room for trials and hearings, the court anticipates using the space as a staff training room, a conference room, and a jury assembly room.

The self-help area, or resource center, will allow the court to provide additional services to the public. Although the final plans for the self-help area are still under development, the space will be used to allow self-represented litigants to complete and file court forms in case types such as evictions, small claims, debt collection, and protection orders against stalking and harassment.

The space will also likely contain several private offices that may ultimately be used by attorneys from legal aid organizations, public defenders, sheriff’s officials and social welfare agencies.

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