Editorials

New courthouse idea needs a lot of study

The quest to build a new Thurston County Courthouse is getting some traction. Earlier this week two South Sound judges pitched one option for replacing the courthouse that now is perched along Lakeridge Drive overlooking Capitol Lake.

District Court Judge Brett Buckley and Superior Court Judge Carol Murphy suggested to the Olympia City Council that downtown could be a good location. It’s an intriguing prospect.

Moving downtown with a county courthouse that has 500 staffers in numerous agencies and hundreds of jurors and customers daily is another sign of growing interest in reinvesting in Olympia’s urban core, which is showing signs of revival with several housing projects under construction.

Of course, money is a legitimate question to raise early and often on a courthouse project. A feasibility study could shed a lot of light on what’s possible. Such a study is underway and our three elected county commissioners plan to review it in August; they want to be sure any project pencils out.

Late summer is also when Sheriff John Snaza and the commissioners hope to have opened their new Accountability and Restitution Center, a replacement jail located in Tumwater’s Mottman Industrial Park.

A point that won’t be lost on many voters is that the county spent millions of dollars to build the ARC, which sat unused for several years. Any patience taxpayers might still have for county budget errors is worn thin enough to see through.

That doesn’t disqualify the concept or end talk about a new courthouse. But it’s hard to envision moving very quickly — despite Murphy’s observation that the current courthouse is “completely obsolete.” That is because officials lack adequate funding even for current operations.

Our county abandoned its old courthouse, which sits across Capitol Way from the Capitol Campus, in favor of a hillside site in 1978 during an era when the city was growing suburbs. At that time there was already a shopping mall in Lacey, soon matched by the addition of Capital Mall on the west side. This centrifugal force of development helped drain vitality from the city center over many decades.

Plainly we have come full circle. We’re seeing a return to the city center, and it’s going to require a lot of deliberate choices over many years to bring back the vital heartbeat. If costs allow, a downtown courthouse could be a big part of a downtown renaissance.

SURVEILLANCE LIMITS HAVE BEEN NEEDED

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Monday that slaps limits on police agencies’ use of high-tech surveillance devices known as cell site simulators, or Stingrays. Republican Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, sponsored the measure that requires police to inform judges before they use the devices to track locations of suspects.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington says the new law, adopted unanimously, is one of the strongest in the country.

Tacoma police are the only jurisdiction in the state known to possess one of the monitoring devices, which it obtained in 2008. The gadget, which mimics a cellphone tower in order to trick actual cell towers into connecting with it, was used on hundreds of occasions to find suspects without first notifying judges, according to the News Tribune.

Pierce County judges then reined in the practice.

House Bill 1440 was passed against the backdrop of larger civil liberty anxieties related to federal surveillance practices. These include the capture of bulk phone data without effective judicial review and even from individuals who are not terrorism suspects. The U.S. House this week approved a bill to rein in bulk-data collection, too.

It’s always best to have police acting within the explicit authority of law.

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