Justice Sotomayor christens Denver’s pricey new judicial center

Greg Campbell | Contributor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor christened Denver’s new $283 million Ralph L. Carr Justice Center before a packed audience of Colorado’s political luminaries on Thursday, praising them for investing in what she described as a towering monument to openness and transparency in the judiciary system — even though an independent audit recently found that the exorbitant costs of constructing the center were anything but transparent.

As first reported by The Daily Caller News Foundation in January, the sprawling new judicial complex — home to the state attorney general, the state Supreme Court and appellate courts — was sold to lawmakers as a means of saving more than $60 million over 30 years, thanks to consolidating operations under one roof.

A state-commissioned audit conducted by the consulting firm Deloitte, however, found that court administrators couldn’t back up the claim. They’ve since revised the cost savings estimate to $20 million over 30 years.

Total first-year savings on rent, utilities, staff and operations were originally estimated to be $4.3 million. The new estimate, according to the audit, is just $477,983.

Auditors also found that cost estimates for the building didn’t account for $3 million to back-fill offices being vacated in another city-owned building by the attorney general.

More recently, an investigation by Denver Channel 7 found that administrators didn’t skimp on the furniture, paying $2,300 apiece for 30 chairs, $8,000 for a credenza and $1,800 for a bench.

The new building is financed through a combination of taxpayer money and court fees.

“I don’t think the taxpayers got ripped off, personally,” developer Bill Mosher told the TV station. One reason, he said, is because the courthouse’s furniture is expected to see a lot of use and is meant to stand the test of time.

The building’s lavish construction was the topic of all the speakers’ remarks, lauded in turn by Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sotomayor, who said such princely edifices are necessary to remind people of the importance of the rule of law.

“Courts uphold the rule of law,” she said. “The physical space of courthouses needs to impress upon people the gravity of what takes place inside.”

She repeatedly compared the new building to her own courthouse in Washington, D.C. and the audience — composed of three former governors; Denver’s current and past mayors; Denver city council members; former and current legislators; the attorney general; and numerous other dignitaries — gave her several standing ovations.

The Ralph L. Carr building is 600,000 square feet and accommodates 1,200 state employees. It is centered around a marbled four-story circular atrium and fronted by a huge glass façade. It is Gold LEED certified — the second highest possible ranking for green buildings — and meant to last at least 100 years.

The building is named for a former Colorado governor who spoke out against the forced internment of Japanese Americans during World War II — some of whom were kept in an internment camp in Colorado — at the expense of his political career.

It includes a law library and an interactive learning center, which Sotomayor toured earlier in the day with 100 schoolchildren.

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