Courthouse Access Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes

May 18th and 19th, 2006
Miami, FL


May 18th (9:00 – 5:00)

Opening Remarks, Roll Call
Committee Co-Chairs Eve Hill and Sam Overton opened the meeting and took roll.

Public Comment
Danielle Strickman outlined several initiatives of the Disability Independence Group, a nonprofit organization seeking to increase opportunities for people with disabilities in the legal system. These included a disability diversity initiative undertaken in cooperation with the Florida Bar Association and plans for a courthouse access study in the state of Florida and a state-wide survey of lawyers with disabilities. She noted that information developed by the committee to date has been consulted in preparing the surveys. Dan Holder of the Miami-Dade Office of ADA Coordination described efforts to achieve program access in county courthouses and difficulties encountered due to the lack of access standards specific to courthouses. He highlighted issues concerning the adaptability of judges’ benches, lift performance, and reassigning courtrooms for program access. He noted access improvements that have been employed, including an accessible podium design. He provided a disk containing photos of implemented access solutions.

Approval of Meeting Minutes
The committee approved the February meeting minutes with modification.

Recognition of Elizabeth Stewart
Hill and Overton recognized Elizabeth Stewart, who resigned from the Access Board to resume practice of family law, and expressed their appreciation for her work organizing the advisory committee and serving as the Board’s representative to the committee. They presented her with gifts on behalf of the committee for her exceptional achievements. Stewart thanked the committee members for their contributions and enthusiasm in promoting accessible courthouses.

Coordination with the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Justice
Denis Pratt updated the committee on coordination efforts with the AIA’s Academy of Architecture for Justice (AAJ), including a presentation proposal that was submitted for this year’s AAJ annual conference in New Orleans, input provided on the AAJ facility review, and an AIA research grant program. Pratt summarized a meeting he and Education Subcommittee co-chairs had with AAJ staff at AIA’s headquarters the previous week.

Committee Representation
Hill and Janet Blizard raised considerations for members serving as committee representatives. Blizard noted that full committee approval is necessary for information presented on behalf of the full committee. Stewart and Blizard indicated that after the committee’s charter expires, members can speak as a “former member of the committee,” but not on the committee’s behalf.

National Association for Court Management (NACM) Conference
Roy Wynn briefed the committee on an ADA workshop that will be held at NACM’s annual conference in Ft. Lauderdale in July. Tracy Justesen and Luis Pitarque will conduct the workshop on July 13th which will include information developed by the committee. Judge Susan Roberts and Stewart also plan to be in attendance.

July Committee Meeting (Boston)
Dave Yanchulis provided details on the next committee meeting to be held July 19th – 21st in Boston. The meeting will follow the standard schedule of facility tours on the afternoon of the first day followed by two meeting days. Accommodations have been arranged with the Fairmont Copley Hotel; meetings will be hosted by the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management at the Edward Brooke Courthouse. Katie McGuinness noted that the Boston Society of Architects may organize a reception for the committee.

November Meeting
Overton and Yanchulis confirmed dates for the final meeting of the committee in November, which will be coordinated with the Access Board meeting on the 14th and 15th. The committee is scheduled to present its recommendations to the Board at this meeting, although work sessions for any remaining committee business can be arranged as well.

Subcommittee Updates
Representatives from each of the three subcommittees provided updates on the progress made to date. Kim Paarlberg and Gate Lew reviewed deliverables of the Courtroom Subcommittee, including reports from three working groups on various courtroom elements and spaces, courtroom plans, and planning for a courtroom mock-up. Paarlberg noted that the reports are close to being completed. Lew indicated that the courtroom plans have been reviewed and revised, and that a courtroom mock-up demonstrating the adopted recommendations may be arranged at a site outside D.C. in Franconia, Virginia in time for the November presentation to the Board. Mark Lichter, reporting for the Courthouse Subcommittee, described efforts to complete reports on different courthouse elements and spaces, including work to be done at this meeting on two remaining reports. The Courthouse Subcommittee will aim to complete the reports for full committee review within one month. Stephanie Vierra and Jim Reed outlined the status of Education Subcommittee deliverables, including website content (background and introductory material), outlines for a general course and a technical course, a general education document, and a marketing plan. Vierra noted that feedback had been received from the other subcommittees on the course outlines, and Reed further described the education document.

Final Deliverables
Overton and Hill outlined steps for finalizing committee deliverables. They suggested that subcommittee deliverables be completed by June 20th for review by the full committee in advance of the July meeting. They also proposed that once deliverables of the Courtroom and Courthouse Subcommittees are completed, members of those subcommittees join the Education Subcommittee in finalizing its deliverables. In addition, they announced formation of an editorial committee which will be responsible for integrating subcommittee deliverables and finalizing the committee’s report. The members named to this committee are: Judge Patricia Broderick, Overton, Hill, Cheryl Killam, Paarlberg, Pitarque, Vierra, Lichter, Blizard or Justesen, and Reed. The editorial committee will review deliverables from June to October while the Education Subcommittee incorporates the other subcommittees’ recommendations into course and website materials. The full committee will have the opportunity to review and approve Education Subcommittee products by the November meeting.

At approximately 10:45 members adjourned for subcommittee breakout sessions, including a joint meeting of the Courtroom and Courthouse Subcommittees and a meeting of the Education Subcommittee. The committee reconvened at 2:00.

Updates on Morning Breakout Sessions
Reconvening after the lunch break, subcommittee co-chairs briefed the full committee on the morning breakout sessions. Courtroom and Courthouse Subcommittee co-chairs described a new template for both subcommittees’ reports and a plan for completing and merging deliverables without duplication of effort. Vierra noted that the Education Subcommittee worked on finalizing website deliverables and determined that an expanded introduction and a section on enforcement are needed. Other considerations raised in the Education Subcommittee meeting included organization of materials by elements (as opposed to by issue) and whether the committee should recommend ramps over lifts.

Presentation on the Eleazer Model Courtroom at Stetson University
Professor Rebecca Morgan, Dr. Karen Griffin, Dan Payne, and Professor Roberta Flowers of Stetson University gave a presentation on the Eleazer model courtroom and features and innovations that improve access and usability for people who are elderly or have disabilities.

Breakout sessions resumed after the Stetson presentation until approximately 5:00.

May 19th (9:00 – 3:00)

Opening Remarks, Roll Call
Committee Co-Chairs Hill and Overton opened the meeting and announced Stewart’s appointment as a member of the Access Board.

After discussing the day’s agenda, the committee adjourned for subcommittee breakout sessions, including joint meetings of the Courtroom and Courthouse Subcommittees and later a joint meeting of the Courthouse and Education Subcommittees. The full committee reconvened after lunch.

Ramps v. Lifts
The full committee deliberated on a general recommendation that ramps be used instead of lifts as a best practice in courtroom design. Maureen McCloskey presented a draft statement on the topic, copies of which were distributed to members. The statement listed the access, maintenance, and cost advantages of ramps compared to lifts. Revisions were proposed concerning additional details to include in this statement. McCloskey and Don Birdsall prepared a revised draft based on the feedback received which was read to, and approved by, members before the meeting adjourned.

Courtroom Elevations
The committee discussed recommendations concerning the heights of judges’ benches, witness stands, and jury boxes. The reasons and rationale for the elevation of these spaces, including sight lines and psychological factors, were discussed along with existing sources of information on the topic. The committee considered recommendations for inclusion in its report on considerations and best practices for determining courtroom elevations and the use of mocks-ups, which should be tested with input from people with disabilities. Broderick and Calvert recommended that ramps serving judges’ benches be located outside the courtroom.

Benefits of Accessibility
Reed presented draft language for the committee’s report or website on how accessibility benefits all users of courthouses, not just people with disabilities, and that accessibility is not a major cost impact in new construction when properly integrated into facility design. Revisions to the text were proposed by members.

Wrap Up and Adjournment
Co-chairs of the Courtroom and Courthouse Subcommittees summarized actions completed at this meeting in breakout sessions and plans for next steps. Lew, reporting for the Courtroom Subcommittee, outlined plans for finalizing Courtroom reports and sample plans, and for reviewing Courthouse Subcommittee reports. Lichter reported for the Courthouse Subcommittee and indicated progress made on element reports, including a report on means of egress which will be prepared with assistance from Paarlberg. He outlined steps for completing Courthouse reports for circulation to the full committee by June 20th.

The full committee adjourned at 2:30. The Education Subcommittee resumed its break out session and adjourned at approximately 3:00.