IOWA CITY — After being located for 31 years in the Johnson County Courthouse, the county attorney’s office is moving out starting Tuesday, but the commute will be a quick one — just about 750 steps away.
Prosecutors are moving into the MidWestOne Bank, 500 S. Clinton St., just south of the courthouse at 417 S. Clinton St. The operation takes over the fourth floor of the building, which allows Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness and the 14 assistant prosecutors to each have an office and provides an open floor plan for 20 support staff and three interns. Three staffers will be hired in the next few months, she said.
Lyness said it’s a big change from having headquarters in the courthouse, where space was a luxury — some attorneys shared an office; a victim/witness coordinator worked out of a renovated closet; and it was necessary for employees to walk through one office to get to another.
Lack of space became a bigger issue when prosecutors needed to find a private space to talk over sensitive issues with victims and their families, or when depositions needed to be taken, Lyness said.
During a tour last week of the new space, Lyness, who had seen it coming together during construction, still seemed amazed by the many conference rooms and private spaces for witnesses or victims and their families. There is even a large break room, which Lyness said is more than twice as large as one before.
The move isn’t a permanent solution for the aging and crowded courthouse, which was built in 1901. But the county has a seven-year lease for about $1.2 million with MidWestOne. The lease includes the option of three three-year extensions as well as some fees and build-out costs for the space.
The county will reimburse the landlord for about $687,200 for design fees and construction costs through rent payments, Lyness said.
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The county also will be responsible for about two-thirds of the build out cost, Lyness said. This money will come from the county general fund, she added.
The furnishings, fixtures, equipment and cost of installation and design fees are estimated to be another $500,000, Lyness said. These expenses will be paid from the debt service fund.
The decision to move the County Attorney’s Office has been in the works since the last bond referendum to build a new courthouse and jail failed to reach the required 60 percent supermajority, Lyness said. Bond referendums for a new justice center failed in 2012 and in 2013.
Johnson County supervisors plan to possibly build two more courtrooms in the vacated county attorney’s space.
Johnson County now doesn’t have as many judges assigned because of the lack of courtroom space, so the additional courtrooms would help move cases more quickly through the system.
The office had been down three assistant prosecutors after two resigned to take other jobs elsewhere and one was on maternity leave until recently. Lyness has hired Haley Huddleston, who will handle misdemeanors, and Oubonh White, a former Muscatine County assistant, to prosecute both felonies and misdemeanors.
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