Johnson County ready to lease space for County Attorney's Office

New office not permanent solution to space crunch

The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the fourth floor of the new MidWestOne building at 500 S. Clinton St. in Iowa City. The Johnson County supervisors are considering leasing 8,613 square feet on the fourth floor for the Johnson County Attorney’s Office so the county can add another courtroom, or two, to the courthouse. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Johnson County Courthouse is seen from the fourth floor of the new MidWestOne building at 500 S. Clinton St. in Iowa City. The Johnson County supervisors are considering leasing 8,613 square feet on the fourth floor for the Johnson County Attorney’s Office so the county can add another courtroom, or two, to the courthouse. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Johnson County officials are moving ahead with a plan to lease part of the MidWestOne building at 500 S. Clinton St. for the Johnson County Attorney’s Office.

The Johnson County supervisors heard a presentation by the county attorney’s office about the seven-year, $1.126 million lease and build-out of the new space during a Wednesday morning work session and agreed to vote Thursday on setting a public hearing on the lease.

If approved, the office would move out of the courthouse to create space for one large or two small courtrooms in the courthouse.

“There’s just no room in the courthouse whatsoever,” Supervisor Janelle Rettig said, adding the county attorney’s office could use more staff but there’s no place to put them.

“So getting the county attorney out of the courthouse, at least temporarily, reutilizing the space for courtrooms and then figuring out a long-range plan, is our only option left.”

The lease also includes three three-year renewal options. It’s for one floor of the MidWestOne’s building, totaling roughly 8,613 square feet, Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said.

This isn’t the first instance of the office’s lack of space being raised to the supervisors. Rettig said space has been a problem for about a decade.

Previously, Johnson County voters have rejected bond proposals — which require a supermajority of 60 percent — to build a new justice center. The courthouse was built in 1901.

The leased space for the county attorney’s office likely won’t be a permanent fix. Lyness said during the discussion that ideally the office would be in the same space as the courtrooms.

“I don’t like moving the county attorney’s office out of the courthouse, but I definitely think this is the best solution to deal with all the space needs we have at this point in time,” Lyness said. “I really do want us to be back in the courthouse for a lot of reasons, and that just isn’t possible right now. So I think that this is truly the best alternative that we have.”

Rettig said she expects whoever is on the Board of Supervisors in the future will put a more permanent fix in front of the voters before the lease expires.

“No matter what you do, you cannot magically generate five new courtrooms. Or make it where juries and witnesses and staff and judges are not in the same hallway. There’s nothing you can do to fix those problems,” Rettig said. “So this is definitely, I think, a temporary fix.”

Lyness explained what the lack of space means for crime victims, saying it’s important victims have somewhere they can wait without defendants walking past them.

Assistant County Attorney Ryan Maas, who gave the presentation to the supervisors, said recently he couldn’t find an available meeting space when he needed one, while Rettig said attorneys have been working out of converted closet spaces.

“Having us lease a space outside of the courthouse so that we can develop some additional courtrooms at the courthouse, as well as having better space if people come to our office — both of those things will be accomplished” by the lease, Lyness said.

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