The Nome Courthouse restarts operations today, in some capacity, as it opens for business at a new site.
Although court proceedings and administrative tasks will be resuming in the Nome court’s new home on 5th Avenue, COVID-19 precautions mean the public will only have access to a computer, telephone, and drop box in the court lobby.
The courthouse should have opened in June but Court Administrator Brodie Kimmel says COVID-19 delayed that too. Kimmel is the Area Court Administrator for the Second Judicial District which covers Nome and Kotzebue.
“When COVID hit, air circulation units really became a huge high demand and so at one point it isn’t really clear when we would be able to receive one. But it came in. It’s here, it’s installed and it’s working.”– Brodie Kimmel
Kimmel recently lead KNOM through one of the two courtrooms in the new courthouse, ahead of the grand opening.
“So this is the clerk’s area here, witness(es), the judge is up there. It will fit 14 people comfortably for jury trials; of course that’s not socially distanced. We’ll have it set up differently.”
And there will be no jury trials for the time being as per Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger’s orders. Misdemeanor trials are suspended through at least November 2nd while in-person felony and civil trials are suspended through at least January 4th, 2021.
But with the bigger space, once trials do begin, Kimmel thinks they’ll be able to spread out a jury around the courtroom to accommodate for social distancing. Grand jury qualifications could begin as soon as October 7th.
Some Nome-area cases have had virtual grand jury hearings held out of Kotzebue. But with the new space in Nome, District Attorney John Earthman is hoping that can be avoided for his clients.
“Anytime you have an electronic connection versus an in person there are just potential problems. You know, not great connections like dropped lines and not great connections, that kind of thing.”
According to the court administration, the new Nome courthouse boasts two full size courtrooms, a jury deliberation room, a separate, secure holding entry, and cell, along with fully accessible facilities.
The new Nome courthouse sits in the eastern half of the old hospital building at Bering and 5th Avenue.
Kotzebue-based Drake Construction Inc. completed the construction. Nome resident Rolland Trowbridge and Toby Drake of Drake Construction formed Aullaqisaaq Center, LLC for the courthouse bid.
Image at Top: The visitor’s entrance of the new Nome Courthouse sits on the east side of the Aullaqisaaq Building in Nome. Photo: Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM. 2020.