Oregon lawmakers recently agreed to spend $9 million on new furniture and technology for the Multnomah County Courthouse.
While lawmakers couldn't find money this session to properly support defense attorneys for the poorest defendants, they did scrape together this money—on top of the $324.5 million already pumped into the county's new courthouse. That includes $11.6 million in county and state dollars already approved for tech and furniture.
In 2014, the state promised to meet half the projected cost of the downtown Portland courthouse at $125 million with the expectation the number would rise with equipment and furnishings. Five years on, the state is actually paying $143 million.
Barbara Marcille, the Oregon Judicial Department's administrator for the Central Courthouse, says exceeding the initial projected cost should not come as a surprise.
"There's never been a state-funded construction project like this [for the OJD], and certainly not a joint state and county project," Marcille tells WW, "so it's taken a lot of on-the-fly interpretation."
Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) isn't convinced.
"For me, the bottom line is the lack of clarity about what the rules of engagement are, and if we're going to build new courthouses we have to establish that," Johnson says. "It can't be these open-ended costs that the state is told to pick up."
Multnomah County officials argue that the upgrade is overdue.
"That furniture was not designed for a digital office, is not ergonomic, and was not meant for workspaces that will have to fit a lot of people into a smaller space, as required by the new Central Courthouse," the county wrote in a statement to WW.
Marcille says officials can't just move existing furniture over from the current courthouse, because more than 3,000 people use the building each day and the cost of closing both courthouses would outweigh the cost of new furniture and would leave defendants in custody longer.
Correction: This story initially misstated the party affiliation of Sen. Betsy Johnson. WW regrets the error.