Clark County officials are considering moving the prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices off the same floor, citing multiple concerns including safety and the public perception of collusion.
Prosecutor Andy Wilson suggested the move, saying the offices should not be located in the same general area on the fourth floor of the county offices and municipal courthouse because the public defender’s office does not have a seating area inside their office and victims and prosecutors often have to walk by violent suspects standing in the hallway.
He said last year a pregnant assistant prosecutor who handles domestic violence cases had to frequently walk by unsupervised defendants in her cases.
“The closest security guard is four floors below that location. Although we have not had any actual assaults, the risk and potential for something bad to happen is extremely high. We have had many incidents where witnesses and victims have felt intimidated because of this contact with the defendants or their families during their trips to our offices,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s comments come as county staff are gearing up for more than $4 million in renovations to the Clark County Common Pleas Court and the AB Graham buildings.
Other proposed moves include moving Clark County Commissioners to the Springview Government Center, 3130 E. Main St. and the Clark County Clerk of Court Title Office out of the building and to near a Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
But Clark County Common Pleas Clerk Ron Vincent adamantly opposes the idea, saying the department should remain centrally located downtown.
Administrator Nathan Kennedy said the county is in the process of developing a comprehensive plan as part of the renovations and have not made any decisions about department moves.
He said the architect engineers working on the project are studying all of the offices and office space in the county buildings and have yet to interview all tenants.
“We are still very much in the extremely beginning, preliminary stages so we have not made any decisions to do anything yet,” Kennedy said.
Wilson said changes to the fourth floor are needed because of the public perception that prosecutors and public defenders work together on cases.
“Although this perception is absolutely false, it is reinforced by the fact that our offices are co-located on the same floor,” Wilson said. “… Separating the two offices into different locations would certainly help the with the perception of justice when the an indigent defendant is assigned an attorney from the public defender’s office.”
Kennedy also suggested making the fourth floor a “prosecutor’s” floor, including the city prosecutor’s office. He said a “prosecutor’s” floor would improve efficiency and allow the consolidation of services as he has staff in four different buildings.
In addition, Wilson said it would allow for more collaboration between the city and county prosecutor’s offices and would eliminate confusion as many people are not aware of the different functions of the county and city prosecutor’s offices.
“In effect we would create “one-stop” delivery for our services,” Wilson said.
Clark County Public Defender Director James Marshall declined to comment for this story.
Clark County Commissioner Rick Lohnes said the prosecutor and public defender’s offices need to be separated, citing safety and public perception concerns.
He also said he is in favor of moving the county title office closer to a local BMV and noted that Vincent has a title bureau next to a BMV in New Carlisle
Springfield has BMVs on Sunset and Bechtle avenues, in addition to an exam station on Bechtle Avenue and a CDL testing site on Upper Valley Pike.
Lohnes said the renovations and remodeling of the courthouse will create space and could result in changes or movement of some departments.
Lohnes said if the public defender’s office is moved, officials need to make sure they get more space and are treated fairly in the process.
“They need to stay in the building they’re in because they’re right there in between the courts and in between the jail,” Lohnes said.
Wilson said the title department, however, should move.
“People have to come downtown, fight the parking problem, get a title, go pay their parking and then drive out to … get their license,” Lohnes said.
Vincent said the title office is centrally located and brings in more than $3.5 million annually downtown.
He said dealerships also use the office and others use the office to get passports.
“No. No. We’re going to stay here,” Vincent said.