Increased court fees help pay for 'elegant,' expensive furniture in new state courts complex

Ralph L. Carr Justice Center has $5,000 desks

DENVER - From its grand glass atrium to the gold leaf in the lettering above the Supreme Court, Colorado's new Ralph L. Carr Justice Center was designed to impress.

But you'll need security clearance or an escort if you want to see the $1,300 wood serving carts with silver trays sitting in Supreme Court Justice Michael Bender's reception room.

Watch for more on this story on 7NEWS tonight at 10 p.m.

In the judicial chambers, there are credenzas with antique brass hardware that cost $2,375 each. One octagonal tray table cost more than $7,200.

Those are just a few of the many high-end pieces of furniture CALL7 Investigators found inside the Carr complex following a review of $9 million in purchase orders.

"It's very, very elegant," said Stephen Sewalk, an assistant professor of real estate and construction at the University of Denver who has previously worked on commercial building projects, including top-dollar law offices. "You would find this in an investment bank, as I said, in an elite law firm, a place that has a lot of money to spend."

State Court Administrator Jerry Marroney, whose office oversaw the complex's building budget, defended the furniture selections.

"I don't believe the state was trying to impress anybody," he said. "I think what they were trying to do is show a dignified area, not spending too much money, but show a dignified area and dignified surroundings for the court."

The desks in judicial chambers cost $5,000 each. Leather sofas for chambers cost roughly $4,800 each. End tables in some chambers were $800 each. Some have drum side tables that cost $1,600.

The grand total for furnishing an appeals judge's chamber: $19,000. The grand total for furnishing a Supreme Court justice's chamber: about $24,000.

Other items found in the Carr complex include:

- Four rolling coat racks - $950 each

- Four chairs with scrolling knuckles and fluted legs - $2,200 each

- Twenty-five leather sofas - $4,800 each

- Cocktail table with ash burl top - $5,900

- Three tan sofas with buttons - $4,100 each

- Forty leather oval desk pads - $115 each

- Six chairs with lion's head on the arms - $1,800

Arguing old facilities were in disrepair and expressing a desire to consolidate state legal operations, state lawmakers in 2008 approved financing for the $258 million, 600,000-square-foot courthouse and office tower with a 96,000-square-foot parking garage.

The complex opened this winter just southwest of the state Capitol building. The new complex houses the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, the Attorney General's Office and a myriad of other offices.

To pay off the project, court fees were increased. For instance, the cost for filing a District Court case went up $68 to $224.

The complex is meant to stand at least 100 years, according to contractor Trammell Crow Co.

The furnishings inside are also expected to withstand the test of time, lasting 20 years. Preferences were given to manufacturers in the United States and items that comply with environmentally-friendly LEED Gold certification.

Such factors increased the cost of furnishing the complex, Marroney said.

"We needed to make sure that we had good quality companies that would be responsive; that would give us a good warranty," Marroney told CALL7 Investigator John Ferrugia.

The furniture selections were made by a committee of state officials and architectural and building experts, including Trammel Crow staff.

Some items, Marroney said, were "outlandish" and rejected by that committee.

"They felt (some proposed furnishings) were outlandish?" Ferrugia asked.

"Yeah, they felt they were too high," Marroney replied.

"What was the bar for outlandish?" Ferrugia asked.

"It's what they decided it was," Marroney said.

Sewalk said the state appeared to spare no expense when it came to furnishing the Carr building.

"This is showpiece furniture," Sewalk said.

Similar items could have been found for half as much, he added.

That's what CALL7 Investigators found at the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse in Denver, which is about three years old. There, desks in judge's chambers cost about $2,200 each. Side chairs were $335 each. Overall, the cost of furnishing a judge's chamber in the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse was $8,000 to $10,000 -- less than half as much as a judicial chamber in the Carr building.

To see the new Carr building for yourself, schedule a tour: http://www.courts.state.co.us/Courts/Supreme_Court/Visiting.cfm

Compare Chief Justice Bender's chamber to a judge's chamber in the Lindsey-Flanigan courthouse by clicking on the interactive picture below or by clicking on http://ch7ne.ws/10Xr5rv

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