4th DCA.jpgThe judges of Florida’s Fourth District Court of Appeal can apply the same sharp analysis to solve financial quandaries as they use to parse complex legal issues. That’s what attendees of yesterday’s meeting of the Appellate Practice Section of the Broward County Bar Association learned. 

The 4th DCA–which hears appeals from Broward, Palm Beach, Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Okeechobee Counties–is planning to relocate from its current location on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard in West Palm Beach to a new building to be constructed between Clematis Street and Datura Street, east of Tamarind Avenue in West Palm Beach. The move is anticipated to take place in early 2018.

At yesterday’s meeting, Chief Judge Dorian Damoorgian, Chief Judge-elect Cory Ciklin, and Judge Jonathan Gerber explained how the relocation plan came to be.

Although the 4th DCA courthouse is old, and designed for a different era, the move is not simply to upgrade to more modern facilities. Rather, it was triggered by an extreme mold infestation that required the courthouse to be closed last year.

While the immediate problem was eventually remediated, it brought to light serious structural issues with the building that made future problems inevitable. Engineers concluded that the building would need to be torn down and rebuilt — an extremely costly proposition, which would be made even more expensive by the need to lease space for court operations while the demolition and construction took place.

The court knew the legislature would not be eager to allocate the funds necessary for such an expensive project. With state budgets tight, and the legislature still weary from the controversy that resulted from the 1st DCA’s construction of a new building a few years ago, it would be necessary for the court to find a less expensive plan for a safe courthouse.

Thus was born the relocation plan. With Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard now a bustling business and retail area, the current courthouse location has become prime real estate, which would allow the property to be sold for several million dollars, the proceeds of which could be applied to construction of a new building.

But wouldn’t the gains of selling the old property be offset by the cost of acquiring new property? As it turns out, no. There was already state-owned property in West Palm Beach where a building could be built across from the West Palm Beach Tri-Rail station, adjacent to the Palm Beach County Health Department and the Department of Children & Family Services.

That space is currently used as a parking lot for the Health Department and DCF. So the new construction will include a parking garage to be used by those agencies as well as the court. During construction, parking will be available in lots located on the south side of Datura Street.  

With the blessing of the Florida Supreme Court, the 4th DCA presented its proposed plan to the Florida legislature. And despite the legislature’s hesistance to use scarce state funds for construction of an appellate courthouse, the court received initial funding of $7.1 million for the project, with the remaining construction funds to be requested in the next legislative session. It seems even the legislature appreciates the 4th DCA’s ability to solve financial problems.