Courthouse emails shed light on project

Chief judge, state attorney's office say they're concerned


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The courtrooms at the new Duval County courthouse have a stately look, but judges and state attorneys say they are not quite state of the art.

That was made evident when Duval County Circuit Court Chief Judge Donald Moran told the courthouse oversight committee at its meeting Monday that he is very concerned.

"Today in any modern courthouse, any trial that goes on you are dependent on technology," Moran said. "Some of it has been eliminated without any discussion of it. I thought it was in. It was in two days ago, as far as I knew. And I was told today it was deleted by SESPEC or some committee I was not invited to that I don't know anything about. All I am saying is there has been a lack of communication on some item in the functioning of a courthouse."

PHOTOS: Courthouse under construction

On Tuesday, Channel 4 obtained emails that the project manager sent to the judges, the state attorney's office and those building the courthouse.

One email from project manager David Schneider dated Jan. 12, says he received word from city Chief Financial Officer Ronnie Belton to stop work on some parts of the courthouse to save money.

In the email, Schneider said they need to notify the chief judge and state attorney of those decisions. Both have said they never did get that word.

"We have had conversations," Belton said Tuesday. "They were notified."

When asked why the chief judge and state attorney are saying they weren't told, Belton said, "Let's not go into that. ... Last night I heard that. We are trying to do the best for the taxpayer. That is what we are hear for. We are looking at cost savings. I am not pointing at anybody. I am not pointing any fingers. If they all point at me, I can take that. I'm a big boy."

An email from project consultant Sam Mousa to Belton also dated the same day in January says, "The courthouse budget is not stressed, and we can afford to purchase or construct the needed items."

Mousa told the courthouse oversight committee Monday that it wasn't long after the emails were sent that he was told he could not talk to anyone involved. He resigned about two weeks later.

This entire process has upset not only the judges, but the state attorney, who's been fighting to get a walkway built between the courthouse and the state attorney's offices. It was in the budget, but is now set to be cut.

"We are mindful of taxes, and we feel our safety should not be an issue in terms of taxes," Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said. "The other people at the courthouse have secured parking. They are not going to be exposed to the people we meet on a daily basis."

The courthouse is set to open in May.

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