Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jury Won't Probe Cost of Court Building; Panel Says Issues Should Air in Public

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Jury Won't Probe Cost of Court Building; Panel Says Issues Should Air in Public

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Pinkham and Mary Kelli Palka , Times-Union staff writers

The Duval County grand jury decided yesterday not to investigate the financial controversy surrounding the new county courthouse.

State Attorney Harry Shorstein said he brought the project's cost overruns to the panel's attention yesterday morning because it had been a prominent public issue and because of newspaper columns calling for a grand jury investigation.

The panel believes issues concerning funding of the estimated $232 million structure should continue to be aired in public, not in the secrecy of the grand jury room, Shorstein said.

He said grand jurors also were concerned about the time and cost of such a probe. The current panel's term ends Nov. 1.

The decision doesn't preclude this or a future grand jury from considering the matter again if evidence of corruption or wrongdoing surfaces, Shorstein said.

"They believe that insufficient evidence . . . exists at this time to conduct an investigation," Shorstein said. "Their primary reason was they believe the issues raised should be debated publicly, as they have been. If an investigation were done, the public wouldn't know anything but the conclusions."

Mayor John Peyton said he would prefer any review of the courthouse budget happen in the public eye.

"I guess at the end of the day you wonder how [a grand jury investigation] would help," Peyton said.

Grand jury proceedings are secret in Florida and grand jurors are forbidden from discussing their deliberations.

A new $190 million Duval County Courthouse was included in the 2000 Better Jacksonville Plan. Later, former Mayor John Delaney added $21 million in contingency money to the project to bring the cost to $211 million. Then in August, Peyton set an estimated $232 million budget for the estimated one million-square-foot complex to be built a couple blocks from Hemming Plaza.

Last week, the Jacksonville City Council unanimously voted to give Peyton until Oct. 28 to either get the cost down to $211 million or provide a detailed proposal on why additional money is needed and where the dollars would come from. …

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