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The Prescott Daily Courier | Prescott, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news March 26, 2015

2/17/2007 4:00:00 AM
AN unknown treasure
Few aware of Prescott's federal courthouse
By JOANNA DODDER The Daily Courier

PRESCOTT ­ Just about every Prescott resident knows a U.S. post office is located along the south side of the county courthouse plaza.

But few people realize that it's also a federal courthouse.

"Most people don't have the foggiest idea," said Paul Rosenblatt, who grew up in Prescott and is now a senior federal judge for the District of Arizona.

As proof, Judge Rosen-blatt tells people to look above the main north entrance and read the words inscribed into the stone: "United States Post Office and Courthouse."

In the 1800s through the 1950s, it was common for post offices and federal courthouses to be in the same building, Rosenblatt noted. The Prescott federal courthouse went up in 1931.

Rosenblatt has plenty of history in this courthouse as well as the county courthouse across the street. He was a Yavapai County Superior Court judge from 1973 to 1984, when President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the federal bench.

Prescott is one of only three federal courthouses still standing in Arizona. The others are in Tucson and Phoenix. The courthouse in Globe closed a few decades ago.

All the Phoenix district's federal judges conduct court in Prescott on occasion. Two senior judges, Robert Broomfield and Earl Carroll, have second homes in Prescott.

Perhaps the most visible federal trial in Prescott's recent history was the Snowbowl ski area trial over which Judge Rosenblatt presided.

American Indians and others were on the courthouse plaza lawn to protest Snowbowl's plan to use effluent, or treated, wastewater for snowmaking.

The U.S. Marshal's Service does not allow protests on federal property, said Jerome Larson, a northern Arizona supervisor for the U.S. Marshal's Service. The marshals' main job is to protect judges. They also watch over trials, move prisoners and hunt down fugitives.

Larson currently is overseeing expansion and renovation work at the Marshal's Office in the federal courthouse in Prescott, but he's being especially careful to preserve the look in the second-floor office.

"We want to keep part of the history of Prescott on that second floor," he said. He recently found some old papers there during the renovation work, including a receipt book that lists expenses such as $3 for six witness beds at the Highland Hotel, and $10.35 for six witness meals at the White Café in 1935.

"It was right over there on the corner," where Quiznos now stands, Rosenblatt recalled during a tour of the offices Friday.

The federal courthouse also has offices for the U.S. Attorney, the federal public defender, probation officials and a clerk. Other rooms are for witnesses and juries.

But the centerpiece is the main courtroom on the second floor.

"There's just nothing to compare to it," Judge Rosenblatt said.

"It's got to be the coolest courtroom in the country," Larson added.

"That courtroom is just gorgeous," agreed David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal for the District of Arizona.

From time to time, the court sees a push to move the federal courthouse from Prescott to Flagstaff. It requires an act of Congress to establish a new federal courthouse in a new city. Right now, Flagstaff has a courtroom, but it's only for magistrate hearings.

Flagstaff is seeing an influx of federal agents because of an increased emphasis on immigration enforcement and an increase in crimes on Indian reservations, Gonzales said.

And the huge increase in federal prisoners has caused Gonzales temporarily to move Prescott's two deputy marshals to Phoenix until he gets more help later this year. The federal prisoner population in Arizona has doubled to 5,000 daily while the Marshals Service staff has increased only 10 percent, Gonzales said. Most of those prisoners are in Phoenix and Tucson.

That means the caseload for federal judges also is on the rise, but it takes a lot longer to add more judges to the bench. The Arizona district is seeking five.

While the prisoners and crimes usually take place elsewhere, the federal judges in Arizona agree Prescott always should have a federal courthouse, Rosenblatt said.

One reason is its historical significance as the territorial capital of Arizona and as the site of the first federal presence in this state, Rosenblatt said.

It's also the most convenient location for many American Indian defendants and witnesses from northern Arizona, he said. And defendants from Indian reservations often feel they can get a fairer trial here than in cities closer to large reservations, he said.

"And it has the most beautiful courtroom in the whole state of Arizona, federal or state," Rosenblatt added. "That by itself is a reason to stay."

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