San Jose has begun building a new family courthouse downtown, near the existing Superior Court. (David Sawyer/Flickr)
San Jose has begun building a new family courthouse downtown, near the existing Superior Court. (David Sawyer/Flickr)

About 200 people, including California’s Chief Justice, judges and elected officials, attended the ceremonial groundbreaking for a planned $231 million family court in downtown San Jose that was first proposed back in 1989.

Santa Clara Family Justice Center Courthouse, scheduled to open in summer 2015, will take the place of six locations in the county now used for family, mental health and drug courts, county Presiding Judge Brian C. Walsh said.

“This courthouse is badly needed, cautiously budgeted and we will save taxpayer money,” Walsh said. “The new family justice center is designed to serve families and children whose cases are currently crammed into inadequate courtrooms, unsafe lease spaces which include an old warehouse, a former bank building and vacant R&D site. We can do better than that.”

The courthouse site is in downtown San Jose, at 201 N. First St., across St. James Street from the San Jose’s first Superior Courthouse, built in 1866, and across the corner from St. James Park, created in 1868, that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Our entire team has been taking a no-frills, cost-conscious approach so the design of the building will be appropriate to the historic neighborhood in which it will be built,” Walsh said. He also pointed out that the center, first planned in 1989, would be the second-largest courthouse in California north of Los Angeles.

The eight-story building, with more than 230,000 square feet of space, is to house 20 courtrooms with separate hallways for staff, families and for defendants who are in-custody. Walsh praised State Sen. Jim Beale, D-San Jose, for gathering political support to save the building’s funding that was approved in 2011 but then slated for removal by the State Legislature last year.

“As a legislator, I think it was very important that we sucked it up and put this court specifically in the budget bill,” Beale said.

Beale said he and other legislators from Northern California had to best lawmakers from the Los Angeles area who were competing for the same funds.

“The big thing that I really appreciate about this court is that it’s a family court and it’s going to be family friendly,” Beale said. “This will be is model in the state of California of what kind of court…would you like to have to make it friendly for all those children. And that’s the kind of thing we’re trying to do here.”

Chief Justice of California Tani Cantil-Sakauye said that the project when completed would nurture families and bring services together to help straighten out their lives.

“We will have families in family law, in dependency court that we will see for 18 years, the magic year until that younger person becomes an adult,” Cantil-Sakauye said. “It’s been said here today that this is the family justice center — it is a family center, it will be a model.”

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