Alicia Diaz Wrest, Library Director, San Joaquin College of Law.
Any member of the Fresno County Bar Association who had the occasion to appear before the Superior Court in Kings County will be all too familiar with the horrors of navigating the old Kings County Courthouse. In this context, “courthouse” is used in the broadest sense of the term. For years, the Kings County Courthouse was a sprawling complex of various court departments located in separate buildings at the Government Center as well as remote locations in Avenal and Corcoran. Each court department had its own security screening, so good luck if you had appearances in multiple departments on the same day. But inconvenience was just the start of Kings County’s problems. The outdated facilities had serious security deficiencies, including genuine hazards regarding inmate transportation. Also, the facilities were no longer large enough to serve Kings County’s burgeoning population. Despite all of these issues, the good and humble servants of Kings County, including the Judicial Officers, ensured continuity and excellence of service.
Thanks to the foresight, hard work, and dedication of the Judicial Officers of Kings County, the old court complex is a thing of the past. Construction of a new courthouse began in October of 2013 and on February 16, 2016, Kings County Superior Court opened the brand new site. This new facility centralized courthouse functions causing the closure of all departments formerly located at the government center and the remote locations in Avenal and Corcoran. The new courthouse is approximately 144,000 square feet, more than double the square footage of the old complex. The four-story building consolidates all court operations and will handle all types of proceedings, including criminal, traffic, civil, family law, juvenile dependency and delinquency, small claims, probate, appeals, unlawful detainer, conservatorships and guardianships, and family court mediation. The facility was also designed with an eye toward the future, offering space for two additional courtrooms as needed in the future.
The new facility also boasts modern conveniences such as, a spacious lobby, a large jury assembly room, and family mediation area with conference rooms and children’s waiting areas. The courtrooms also offer new technologies and features including improved acoustics, sound systems, white-noise machines for bench conferences, and projectors. By any standard, the new courthouse is beautifully designed. The area leading to the entry models the natural environment of the Southern San Joaquin Valley, reminding the viewer of the dry Tulare Lake. The entry opens into a large skylighted atrium that maximizes natural light. The courthouse was designed to meet the energy-efficiency requirements set forth in LEED, as well as the standards found in The California Energy Code. An example of this sustainability is an air-conditioning system that cools the air by blowing it over ice made at night, when energy rates are lowest.
One critically important feature of the new courthouse is security. The centralized location means there is now one entry point for security screening. Inmate transport is also greatly improved, for the new courthouse is directly adjacent to the Kings County Jail. This allowed for construction of an underground tunnel running between the jail and the courthouse. Inmates located at the Kings County Jail are simply transported on foot through an underground corridor leading to underground holding cells. California State Prison Inmates arrive through a secure sally port system which also leads directly into the underground holding cells. The entire area is under constant video surveillance.
The new courthouse cost approximately $86 million to build. Senate Bill 1407, enacted in 2008, made funds available for these types of projects through court fees, penalties, and assessments instead of taxpayer revenues from the state’s General Fund. Kings County was one of the lucky counties awarded a portion of these funds. Kings County’s courthouse project, ranked as an “Immediate Need”, was considered to be one of the highest priority infrastructure projects.
The new Kings County Superior Court is located at 1640 Kings County Drive in Hanford. The C Public Windows for the Clerk’s Office close on Monday - Thursday at 4:00 p.m., and on Fridays at 11:30 a.m. (excluding Court holidays and Court Furlough Days).
As a final note, if you happen to be making an appearance in Kings County, and in need of the law library, it is still at in the old government complex located at the Kings County Government Center, 1400 W. Lacey Blvd., Building 4, which is right next to the District Attorney’s office. It is a very short distance from the new courthouse. The library is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and the librarian is available from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.