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Will voters give thumbs up to new county law and justice center?

Tour of current facility reveals flaws, challenges
Posted at 2:28 PM, Oct 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-04 16:28:18-04

Overcrowding. Structurally unsound. Asbestos.

These are just a few of the terms county officials used to describe the state of Gallatin County’s Law and Justice Center on a tour this week.

This November, the county will ask voters to approve a $59 million bond issue to replace the building.

“There’s really no way to modify and remodel that building to make it work,” said Gallatin County Commissioner Don Seifert.

Victim Services is a program through the County Attorney’s office and is currently housed under the Law and Justice Center.

The office works directly with all victims of violent crimes and is inconveniently located directly across jury meeting rooms and a jury waiting area.

“We are very challenged to make sure there’s not any interactions between victims and witnesses and jurors that are in those trials,” said Stacy Wesen, director of Gallatin County’s Victim Services.

The close quarters could result in a mistrial if the wrong people cross paths.

“We’ve actually had to address, thankfully, we haven’t had any mistrials. But I definitely can say that there’s been a few times where it’s been close,” said Wesen.

The hallway not only causes logistical headaches for the Victim Services office but makes for an extremely uncomfortable environment for victims of violent crimes.

Visitors of the Victim Services office must use an intercom system and state the reason why they’re visiting the office before being allowed entry for safety purposes.

Which could be distressing if they’re in a congested hallway filled with jurors.

“The victim has to describe their issue really in a public forum before they can get into the victim services to be served,” said Commissioner Seifert.

“It’s just a very intimidating situation for our victims to be in,” said Wesen.

During the tour, a county official pointed out the space where victims of violent crimes report on their cases. Tucked away in a room full of files was the cheerfully painted storage closet.

“We are offering tours of that building so people can really see how that building functions or fails to function.”