Federal courthouse needed in the Springs

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Colorado Springs is the largest city in the United States without a federal courthouse.

Two years ago, the Springs division of U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives had more federal cases than the Denver Metro area, according to El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa.

What could the economic impact of a federal courthouse be? Our FBI and DEA agents wouldn’t wear out their tires driving to Denver all the time. If there is a problem in one of the federal prisons down in the Canon City area, a law official has to drive down to investigate it, then possibly transfer the inmate up to Denver for court appearances.

The longer the transport, the better chance of a bad guy escaping. That would put local residents at risk. Personally, I would not like to spend a couple of hours in a vehicle with The Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, or any of the other serious felons in Colorado prisons.

And what about weather over Monument Hill? What would the conversation be? “Hey, Mr. Shoe Bomber, since we are stuck in a snowstorm, why did you want to blow up that plane?” Or, “Mr. Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack, what were you thinking, trying to blow up a building?”

A federal courthouse would boost the city’s economy with maybe 50 employees: prosecutors, defense attorneys and U.S. marshals, all the way to maintenance people. Restaurants and the rest of the downtown merchants would benefit. And because they would not have to drive to Denver several times a week, our law enforcement officers would save time and money.

El Paso County is the most populous county in the state, and Colorado Springs is the largest city close to federal prisons, so a federal courthouse makes sense here. Maybe it is politics.

What about all the money that goes right up Interstate 25 to Denver? In a federal case, most defendants would hire a Denver attorney. Not to mention that people are not getting a jury of their peers because federal jury selection would be people from the Denver area, not El Paso County. That just seems wrong on a constitutional level.

I think millions of dollars would bubble up and stay here if the Springs had a federal courthouse. We are second fiddle to Denver if we don’t have a federal courthouse. How much local activity and revenue are generated by the current busy courthouse? It is substantial.

Our district attorney’s office is the busiest in the state; a federal courthouse would be a natural. We have enough bad guys in El Paso County, with almost a quarter of all Colorado federal criminal dockets coming from south of the Douglas County line.

I bet some downtown developers would like to put a federal courthouse on their land.

The chief judge of each state district court is responsible for formulating a long-range facility plan and is supposed to include where new judges and courthouses will be needed over the next 10 to 30 years. Let’s hope they see what a no-brainer this is, and the Springs gets a federal courthouse.

Maybe some day we can join the ranks of non-capital cities such as Muskogee, Okla., Sioux City, Iowa, Rapid City S.D., and Fort Smith, Ark. Those are all cities with fewer than 200,000 residents, but with federal courthouses.

There are some people in town calling themselves the Committee for a Federal Courthouse in the Springs. I wish them luck; we need it.

The timing is perfect. The federal government needs worthwhile stimulus projects to spend money on. A federal courthouse staffed by a contingent transferred from Denver would serve the public good.

But Colorado Springs is a conservative bastion, and the Democrats are running the state government. If politics play a role, I’ll be writing the same column for many years to come.

Lon Matejczyk is publisher of the Colorado Springs Business Journal. He can be reached at Lon.Matejczyk@csbj.com or 329-5202.