MAHONING COUNTY Office space will open in courthouse

The prosecutor's office and court of appeals will leave the courthouse shortly.
YOUNGSTOWN -- The space odyssey at the Mahoning County Courthouse did not end in 2001 like officials had hoped it would.
But if all goes according to plan, there should soon be a little more elbow room there.
It won't be available until at least next month, but officials are already starting to jockey for the office space, which has become a scarce and precious commodity in the downtown building.
The county prosecutor's office, which occupies much of the third floor, should soon be moving out of the courthouse to new offices in the adjacent county administration building.
It's nearly certain that the vacated space will be used for some sort of court function, though it's undecided just who'll get it and what it will be used for.
"There has been a lot of talk and confusion over what's going to happen when that space becomes available," said Judge James C. Evans of common pleas court.
Commissioners had hoped to relocate the prosecutor's staff by the end of last year. Renovation of the administration building, which is the former county jail, took longer than expected, however, said county administrator Gary Kubic.
He said the work has all been done in-house by the facilities management department, which did the job in addition to maintaining all other county buildings.
"We're keeping the cost down that way," Kubic said. "It's taken longer than we expected, but we're getting there."
What's being done
The last step is upgrading the main elevator at the Boardman Street entrance. It had to be replaced because it only went to the third floor, even though the building is six stories. It was set up that way for security reasons when the building was used as a jail.
Richard Malagisi, facilities manager, said the new elevator is to be completed by Sept. 15. The prosecutor's staff will be moved into new offices immediately afterward, he said.
Once Prosecutor Paul Gains and his staff move out, no one knows for sure who'll take over the vacated courthouse space.
"It's going to be a jump ball," said Robert Rupeka, common pleas court administrator. Common pleas judges have said they want the space for administrative offices, court reporters and a jury office.
The clerk of courts office badly needs more space for storage and personnel.
Domestic relations court, which has staff and operations both in the basement and on the fourth floor, would like to consolidate on one floor.
Rupeka said courthouse officials have historically tried to cooperate with each other in meeting space needs, and he expects that to continue. The key, he said, is open communication among all officeholders.
"There's no question that space in this building is at a premium," he added. "But our biggest problem with space is communication. Nobody knows what's going on because we don't talk about it enough."
Besides storage and personnel, there's also a need for a new courtroom.
Cramped court
Judge Evans presides in a tiny courtroom on the third floor, just down the hall from the prosecutors' criminal division. Judges and county commissioners have long stressed the need to provide him with a bigger facility, but haven't had the space.
His courtroom is so small that he'll have to locate elsewhere for a trial that's to begin Monday. Two defendants are charged with aggravated murder. There's just not enough room in his court to accommodate all the lawyers, jurors, spectators and press.
He could eventually find a new home on the fourth floor, where the 7th District Court of Appeals is located.
Commissioners intend to move the appellate court out of the courthouse in the near future. That will free up office space -- and a full-size courtroom - on the fourth floor for Judge Evans.
As with the prosecutor's move, commissioners had hoped the court of appeals could be relocated last year. Plans to move the court into the former Youngstown City Hall annex fell through, however, and the search for space had to start over.
The appellate court needs to move because it's gotten too cramped for space. The four-judge panel and their 15 employees occupy essentially the same space used by one common pleas judge and a two-person staff, said court administrator Robert Budinsky.
The courtroom is lined with study cubicles where law clerks do legal research when court is not in session.
"We just need more working room for research reasons and basically to do our jobs," Budinsky said.
Commissioners have tried unsuccessfully to find space in or near the courthouse for the appellate court. Now they are seeking bids for office space elsewhere, Kubic said.
He said anyone within the court's eight-county district can submit a proposal, as long as it meets the bid specifications.
Budinsky said judges would like to see the court remain in Mahoning County, which is the largest of the eight in the district, but it's not a requirement.
"There's a certain history here because the court has always been here," he said. "But we are not obligated to stay here if an opportunity presents itself otherwise."

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