FRANKFORT — Court officials spent about $75,000 to move a judge's bench and replace newly-laid carpet with hardwood floors in parts of a new addition to the Campbell County Courthouse that opened earlier this month.
The extra spending — $26,731 to change the flooring in judges' offices and $48,860 to move a judge's bench from the side of a courtroom to its center — comes as non-elected Kentucky court workers face three unpaid furlough days in coming months.
The total price tag for the construction project, which includes ongoing renovations of the old courthouse, is $31 million.
Retired Circuit Court Judge William Wehr, the chairman of the local board overseeing the courthouse project, said the changes will not cause the project to go over budget.
"In fact, at the end of the project, I think we're going to end up with a surplus," he said.
Wehr said he understands why some employees have problems with the state program that has spent more than $880 million on courthouse construction projects since 1998, but money for the projects comes from bonding, not the judicial branch's operating budget.
Judges where unhappy with the carpets installed in their new offices, he said. The carpets in adjoining rooms did not match and the judges said the carpets were not what they had ordered.
Campbell Circuit Court Judge Fred Stine said that when he did a walk-through of the building recently, it was obvious that there were problems with the carpets.
"This wasn't the carpet that we ordered," Stine said.
After realizing the mistake, Wehr said the group decided to put hardwood floors in the judge's chambers. They had considered putting in hardwood at the beginning of the project but were told it was too expensive. The original cost estimate was for industrial-grade hardwood, but the hardwood eventually installed in the five judges' chambers cost much less, he said.
The carpet from the judge's chambers will be used in the old courthouse, said Leigh Anne Hiatt, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the Courts.
"The carpet that was taken back up is to be used in the renovated part of the building where it can be installed in separate areas and the difference in color won't be as obvious," she said.
The judge's bench in District Courtroom 242 was originally slated for the side of the room at the request of District Court Judge Gregory Popovich, Wehr said.
But District Court Judge Karen Thomas was later assigned the courtroom and decided it was not feasible to have the bench on the side. Thomas said she uses a program that allows her to enter orders immediately into the court computer system. The computer system needs additional monitors, which a side bench would not accomodate.
By entering all of her own information, Thomas said, she is able to do the work of one full-time clerk in addition to being a judge, which saves the court money.
Although Popovich, the senior district court judge, had originally requested the side bench in room 242, Thomas said she doesn't believe the room was assigned to a judge when it was originally designed.
Later, Popovich was allowed to choose which judge's chambers he wanted and Thomas was allowed to choose which courtroom she wanted. Once it was established that Thomas would get the courtroom slated to have a side bench, Thomas said she told the architects repeatedly that the bench would not work.
Thomas said there was only a door, a pipe and part of the ceiling where the bench was located when she caught the mistake.
"They kept all the existing structure and just closed in where the door was," Thomas said. "I'm not sure why it cost that much ... It was not something that I wanted. It was something that I needed."
The rest of the courtrooms in the new addition have center benches.
The courthouse project development board, which includes Wehr, Stine, other judges and local leaders, gives first approval of change orders. If there is money available for the change order, the AOC approves it, Hiatt said.
The state's spending on new courthouses has drawn criticism from some in recent years as budget cuts to the judicial branch brought layoffs and furloughs.
Because of a $27.8 million cut to the judicial branch budget in the upcoming fiscal year, Chief Supreme Court Justice John D. Minton announced earlier this year that judicial branch employees will have to take three unpaid furlough days.
The judicial branch has eliminated more than 280 positions over the past two years, through layoffs and attrition, he said.
Minton had asked the General Assembly for additional funds this fiscal year so that he could raise some salaries of judicial branch employees. Some make so little money that they qualify for public assistance, court officials told legislators during budget hearings earlier this year.
"I think the legislature needs to address that," Wehr said of the low salaries. "I know Justice Minton has tried to increase salaries ... They have been hit really hard."