CLEVELAND — Considering how different the courtrooms look, with plastic barriers and extra space between chairs, the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court plan to move ahead with trials is fairly simple for most people involved.
A simple walk across Ontario Street from the Justice Center into the Global Center for Health Innovation doubles the amount of space the court can use while following social distancing protocols because of the coronavirus.
Safe Court Proceedings
Without the move, Administrative Court Judge Brendan Sheehan would only have half the usual number of courtrooms to use, creating a backlog hundreds of cases long. Now, jurors report to the building for jury duty while arbitration, civil, and criminal trials are held in conference rooms.
Court dates and trials were paused from March through September while the court came up with a plan to safely resume.
That delay caused big problems for the people Pastor Corona Borden counsels.
“The coronavirus has been very hard on a lot of the inmates,” said Pastor Borden. “The dockets and their court appointments have been pushed back.”
“We looked across the street and here we are at the Global Center for Health Innovation, this building is empty,” said Judge Sheehan. “We’ve got this building now that we can run cases, keep things going forward, all because of having this availability in this building.”
The building was available because it has recently been used as an extension of the Huntington Convention Center next door. Both are empty now because the coronavirus has canceled everything that was scheduled for the space since March.
“This is the first thing since the middle of March that we’ve had in the facility,” said Huntington Convention Center General Manager Ron King. “We celebrated the courts coming over as if we had just won a major, city-wide convention.”
Cuyahoga County is paying about $1.3 million from the CARES Act to the Convention Center to use the space. The county owns the building but the Convention Center has to pay many of the 200 employees it takes to make the building run.
“We had to furlough over 70% of our staff when this all started,” said King.
“This building over here had basically gone quiet,” said Cuyahoga County Director of Public Works Michael Dever.
That’s why Dever said the move made sense for the next few weeks to get the court operating again, but the Global Center for Health Innovation was meant to be a showcase for medical research and development, not extra courtrooms.
See News 5 Cleveland's previous coverage of the Global Center for Health Innovation here.
“This facility was built for conventions, for the region, and it’s very important for the county as a major stakeholder in this building that we get back to that business,” said Dever.
That future for the Global Center for Health Innovation is being considered right now in a study by the Cuyahoga County Convention Facilities Development Corporation. King hinted that the result of that study could include a re-branding that would help the Global Center and Huntington Convention Center closer together.
“This, instead of being the Global Center, this could simply be called The Atrium and these would be The Atrium Meeting Rooms,” said King.
Right now the court is planning on being in the Global Center for Health Innovation until the end of 2020. The Convention Center and County will need to figure out what might happen in 2021.
It’s no secret that Cuyahoga County is working on a new Justice Center and Dever says what he learns now will influence what gets built.
“We don’t have a shovel in the ground, we don’t have plans drawn up, we’re going through the programmatic phase right now,” said Dever.
Before the coronavirus, Cuyahoga County originally planned on having some recommendations for a new Justice Center by the end of 2020. Those recommendations are now expected to come out in 2021.
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