The head of the Richmond Bar Association is pushing back against the city’s tentative plans to relocate courts now housed in the John Marshall Courts Building downtown to a location near the city’s jail.
In a letter to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, bar association President T. O’Connor Johnson said the city’s circuit court judges oppose the proposed location for a new courthouse.
“Having discussed this with the Chief Judge of the Richmond Circuit Court, W. Reilly Marchant, I can tell you that all seven of the Circuit Court Judges oppose that location for myriad reasons,” Johnson said in the letter. The jail is on Fairfield Way in the city’s East End.
Alleging that the administration has not consulted the court’s judges, the bar association or any acting lawyers, Johnson said the committee should investigate the current state of the John Marshall Courts Building and the city’s plans.
“While the location of the court’s building may or may not be germane to the Public Safety Committee, the safety of any courthouse or public building owned by the city should be of paramount concern to this committee,” the letter states. “It is unknown whether or not the city’s plans for a new courthouse address the safety concerns with the current building.”
Johnson said he learned about the plans only after raising concerns to city officials about the safety of the courthouse, which was vandalized during protests last summer.
Robert C. Steidel, the city’s deputy chief administrative officer for operations, said in an email that the plans Johnson mentioned are only conceptual work for a comprehensive facilities plan that won’t be finalized until September.
A potential relocation is mentioned in a new draft plan for the downtown city center area where the courthouse is currently located, but it also suggests that the city “explore options” that include a new building on the same parcel or a major renovation.
Johnson said the events last summer, safety measures for the COVID-19 pandemic and other past incidents have led him to personally advocate for a new, safer courthouse building.
“Based upon everything that I have read and that has been publicized concerning the development of the area around the John Marshall Courthouse, it is my belief that these safety concerns have hardly been considered, if at all,” the letter states.
Councilwoman Reva Trammell, the chair of the Public Safety Committee, did not immediately respond to a voicemail left for her Tuesday afternoon.
Mayor Levar Stoney’s spokesperson, Jim Nolan, said in an email Tuesday that the city is still working out details and planning processes for the courthouse project.
“No one should jump to conclusions. We are in the early stages of planning and we welcome their input as stakeholders in the process,” Nolan said. “We’re considering multiple options for the future and no decisions have been made for recommendation to the Mayor or City Council.”