DUBLIN (Lisa Fernandez/KTVU) - A new $147-million courthouse opened in Alameda County Court this week, and already the building, or rather its location, is sparking controversy.
Public Defender Brendon Woods is speaking out against the court being designated for arraignments in Dublin, a 30-minute drive from Oakland, where most of the defendants and their families live. He contends that defendants will spend longer time in jail because of the distance, specifically because if relatives don't go to argue for a lower bail, their loved ones will have less of a chance of getting released to await trial. Yesterday, Woods said that an 18-year-old was released from custody in large part because his aunt and three relatives came to court in Oakland and persuaded the judge to release him before his next court date.
Woods added that it’s a hardship for many relatives to attend arraignments in Dublin if they don’t have cars, and public transportation can be a hassle. A round-trip BART ticket from Oakland to Dublin is $12.
"Families need to be there to advocate to get their loved ones out of custody," Woods told KTVU in an interview on Wednesday. "These are mostly low-income people and people of color."
The new courthouse on Gleason Drive is a 1.3-mile walk from the closest BART station. However, it is 300 yards from the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, where many defendants’ families must travel anyway to visit them.
Responding to those criticisms in a statement, Superior Court Presiding Judge Morris Jacobson said that arraignments are very brief and are generally not even attended by defendants’ families. And even if they do show up to express support, Jacobson said, relatives can’t talk or sometimes even look at their relatives because they are barred from doing so. That exception is overruled, however, if family members are given permission to directly address the court.
Jacobson also said it makes more logistical sense to arraign defendants near the jail where they are being housed.
Currently, defendants at Santa Rita are woken up at 3 a.m., given a bag lunch and moved into a holding area at 6 a.m. The bus leaves Dublin at 7 a.m. and takes 90 minutes to get them to Oakland, he said. Afterward, he said, defendants wait in Oakland most of the afternoon until they return to Santa Rita Jail. Traffic often takes so long, he said, that defendants can miss a hot dinner and get another bag lunch. This month, the bus showed up two hours late to court because of traffic. Also, if a defendant is released from custody, Jacobson said, that relatives have to make it to Santa Rita Jail, sometimes past midnight, to pick them up.
Woods countered that there will still be buses running from Oakland to Dublin anyway every day, but they will be half full, and that seems wasteful. He also said that he's heard possible plans of buying smaller shuttles to address that problem, which would cost money in the short-term.
The new East County Hall of Justice has 45,000 of office space, with one floor dedicated to the District Attorney and one floor shared by the Public Defender and probation offices.