An Inside Look at Travis County Civil and Family Courts Facility with Judge Lora J. Livingston
“As the population increases, so does the business of the courthouse,” says Travis County Courts Administrative Judge Lora J. Livingston. With the county’s population increasing by 35% in the past decade, Travis County, Texas is no exception. This episode of 360 Justice features a discussion with Judge Livingston, who played an active role in representing the judiciary in the planning and design of the new Travis County courthouse. Listen as Judge Livingston walks hosts Eli Gage and Rob Fisch through the project’s rough beginning, the success of its progressive P3 approach, and its ability to accommodate for the future with its multipurpose design and smart use of adaptable space.
In this episode, we explore:
- What made Public-Private Partnership (P3) the best approach for building the new Travis County Courthouse
- How the courthouse’s new amenities, architecture, and design keep its community and stakeholders top of mind
- What preparation, research, and investments are needed to launch a project such as the new Travis County Courthouse
- The impact of COVID-19 on court operations and which accommodations may be here to stay
Have questions, comments or want to talk more about this? Contact the show host Eli Gage at email@example.com
Lora J. Livingston
Administrative Judge, Travis County Courts
The honorary Lora J. Livingston is a judge for the 261st District Court in Travis County, Texas. She was initially elected to the bench in 1998. At that time, she became the first African American woman to preside over a Travis County District Court.
Livingston earned a J.D. from the University of California Los Angeles School of Law in 1982. After relocating to Texas, Livingston began her legal career as a Reginald Heber Smith Community Lawyer Fellow for the Legal Aid Society of Central Texas in 1986. Two years later, she entered into private practice. She worked as an attorney at the Joel B. Bennett, PC (1998 to 1993) as well as a partner at Livingston & Parr (1993 to 1995). Livingston was then appointed to serve as an associate judge for the 261st District Court. She held that position until her election to the bench.
Her memberships have included the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, the Texas Access to Justice Commission, the National Center on Women and Family Law, the National Association of IOLTA Programs, the Judicial Section of the State Bar of Texas, and the Board of the Texas Center for the Judiciary.
She is a recipient of the Harold F. Kleinman award for the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation.
Robert Fisch, AICP, LEED AP
Senior Vice President, CGL Companies
Robert Fisch, a nationally recognized expert on justice facilities, leads court planning activities for the firm. Recognized primarily for his practical application of analytical planning methods for unique project requirements, he is seasoned in working with the complex environment of interagency relationships on major public projects. Robert is known for his success in facilitating consensus regarding owner, user, and legislator priorities. As a strategic thinker, he has expertise in master planning, visioning, operational and needs assessment, space programming, staffing and caseload analysis, special organization and concept design alternatives.
Eli Gage: [00:00:00] Well, hello everybody. And welcome to the 360 Justice podcast. I’m your host, Eli gage. And with me today is my cohost for today’s episode. Rob fish. Rob is a nationally recognized expert on justice facilities and leads our courts planning activities at CGL. Rob is a senior vice-president and also a regional office leader. And it’s a pleasure to have you host and with me today, Rob. Thank you.
Rob Fisch: [00:00:25] Thanks Eli. This is an exciting project. I always love talking about it.
Eli Gage: [00:00:29] So I know you do, and we’re honored quite frankly, honored to have, the honorable Laura J. Livingston. Judge for the 261st district court in Travis county, Texas. Judge, thanks for making time with us today.
Judge Livingston: [00:00:45] Thanks so much for having me. I’m honored.
Eli Gage: [00:00:48] Thank you. I want to start real quick, Judge with asking you a little bit about your background and how you came to become. I know, I think I was, I’m sitting in San Francisco right now, [00:01:00] actually.
And I think looking back at your information, you might’ve been the original expatriate out of California to move to Travis county back in 82?
Judge Livingston: [00:01:11] 1982. I grew up in California and that is where my home is. My folks still live in California, in Southern California, not up in the bay area where you are. But yes, I moved here in 1982 to Austin on a fellowship with the legal services corporation.
The name is really long. It had a nickname called the Reggie program. So we’ll use that for short to save time. But I started out my career at legal aid here in Austin. And then I went into private practice and then I was originally appointed to a judicial position over the truck’s county courthouse, handling mostly family law cases.
And then about three years later, I was elected to a district court position that happened in 1998. And I’ve been on the district bench since then.
Eli Gage: [00:01:58] Nice. And how did you [00:02:00] become involved in the Travis county courthouse project? Your, your. You’ve been a advocate of this project from the beginning, and we appreciate that obviously.
Judge Livingston: [00:02:11] Well it has been, uh, a rather long road and it, and it actually started before my more direct involvement. So I went to a Judge’s conference shortly after I was appointed to a judicial position in the courts. And at that conference, there were. Vendors talking about, you know, building projects and wouldn’t you like to work in a brand new court building and so forth.
And I came back to Travis county and told my bosses, you know, we ought to think about that. These partnerships with private developers, because, you know, there are some arrangements in which they take on more of the risk and we just, you know, sign a check and then we can move into a really pretty building because even back in those days, the building that we’re currently occupying was old and a bit dusty and [00:03:00] really needed was just inadequate for our court needs and staff needs. And so that sort of fell on deaf, deaf ears, if you will, back in the day. And then as I rose through the ranks and as the building began to be more and more inadequate for our needs I was able to enlist others in my fight for a new building.
And I’m very fortunate to have worked with. More senior Judges like Judge John Dietz, who was the local administrative district Judge at that time, he saw the need as well. And he was really the catalyst for jump-starting. If you will, which the county undertook, and that really led to a whole master plan process, which led to not only work on a new courthouse for the civil and family courts, but also other much needed county buildings. Some that have already been built, some that are under construction and others that are in the planning stages. So it’s been a long haul. [00:04:00] It’s been a labor of love, and it’s been a very cooperative and collaborative process.
But my interest in it primarily was that the building we currently occupy as simply inadequate for the needs of the courts, the needs of the public, and this community really deserves a bigger and better building in order to take care of the people’s faces.
Eli Gage: [00:04:22] Right. I think Rob was probably involved at the beginning. What’s the timeframe of that? You might’ve mentioned it early was when did the process begin?
Judge Livingston: [00:04:29] Rob might actually remember when CGL came on board in the early days, because he was actually one of the consultants that we worked with during the master planning process. Rob, do you remember when that was?
Rob Fisch: [00:04:40] We started in 2009. I don’t know if you remember we had that big visioning session that might be where I met you. And
Judge Livingston: [00:04:49] you, you don’t remember that? I couldn’t remember what year it was, but yeah, 2009 was that sounds about right. And now it’s 2021 about to be 2022, and we’re [00:05:00] still planning, still trying to get it finished and move into it.
Rob Fisch: [00:05:05] Well, that’s not uncommon for a project of this scale. We often see that. Germination time on a lot of major projects. So I don’t think you’re behind anybody else. I think it’s par for the course.
Judge Livingston: [00:05:15] I will say that I think it’s been a thoughtful process, right? I really appreciate the interest in not only the consultants that we fired, but the, the stakeholders, all of them, including the folks who cut the checks, as well as the folks who will use the building, you know, all of us that work in the building had had ample opportunity to really be very thoughtful about what our needs are now, but also what our needs will be in into the future. And I think that kind of future planning is really important for a community of this size because this building will have to last for many, many years. And we want to make sure that what we’re planning today is sustainable and that what we are planning today will be functionable and workable for generations to come.
So it’s taken a long time, but I [00:06:00] think you’re right, Rob, that it has been uh, wise for us to, to be deliberative and thoughtful in the process so that we can make sure that at the end of the day, we’ve done our best to make sure we build a building that is going to last well.
Rob Fisch: [00:06:14] Why don’t we talk a little bit about I guess how we got here. So the master plan was the 2009. I think it was issued in 2011. There were a couple of, we say false attempts or failed attempts to get the project underway earlier. You want to talk a little bit about that history and how we got to P3 and that solution?
Judge Livingston: [00:06:33] I’ll say that many of us involved in the project were intrigued by the public private partnership, the P3 plan early on, but there are those many of whom are in decision making roles who found it novel and new and different, and as creative as it might be new and different when you’re working in a governmental, uh, [00:07:00] environment, uh, it can not be met with as much enthusiasm for some is as might be for others. And so. New and novel is, is a term that scares me. Uh, folks sometimes. And so I think it’s fair to say that while many of us thought this new idea was one that would ultimately be beneficial for our project before our community. You know, we had to do some convincing if you will, of others. And so we were rejected in our efforts initially to go down the path toward a P3.
And so we went down a more conservative, traditional path, if you will. With, you know, kind of design build, go out for a bond, get the community to vote. Yay. Or may. I was not interested in that effort, partly because I knew that at the end of the day, we had to have a new building, like whether the public appreciates that or not, it needed to happen.
And so, you know, I felt like we could save time and money by simply doing [00:08:00] what we all knew, had to be done eventually. And but as I say, you know, sometimes it just takes a while to kind of go through a much needed, tried and true process to ultimately get where you’re trying to go. And so we, we took a more measured approach if you will.
And we lost the first attempt to get a bond. To provide this project part of what was happening with the failure of the bond proposal had to do with the site that we had selected and purchased at the time, there were many in our community who felt like that particular site. Was such a valuable piece of real estate that it ought not be wasted on a government building.
I of course disagree with that. I think there is no more work and no more no other kind of building that represents the heart of a community than the one that does the people’s business. But those in the, in the very robust real estate market at the time felt like it really was something that should be on the tax rolls and [00:09:00] should be.
Used for what they considered to be a better and higher use if you will. So the bond proposal failed in part because of where we were planning to build the building in a very, uh, hot real estate market. We ran up against some opposition based on the location we had chosen. Uh, so that led us to make other arrangements for that space and that.
We had to purchase new space, which was a whole nother process. In terms of the length of time, it took to identify other viable options in the community. We went through a very competitive and robust bid process to find other sites we did. So finally purchased and closed on a site that I think he’s going to be just wonderful for our purposes.
And, uh, once we purchased that. Then we back, we went back to the table and suggested a P3 arrangement. So [00:10:00] given where we were, I sort of, I guess the irony or perhaps the silver lining is a better way to put that. I guess the silver lining in how long it took for us to get where we are today is that.
The P3, we had initially proposed that was rejected, was finally accepted. And that’s the project that we ended up with. So we’ve come full circle if you will. And I guess I see that as the silver lining of how long this took to get done.
Rob Fisch: [00:10:29] One of the advantages I think that Travis took is I did aprogressive public private partnership, which basically meant you actually work with the design and the developer team for a period of months to refine the program and the design to get to a guaranteed maximum price. That way the county, the judges, you actually knew what you were getting as opposed to something where developer teams are issued design criteria age, give their own response and you just have to pick one. So this allowed that collaboration process. I mean, how did you feel that process went and [00:11:00] how did you feel at the end about the design approach?
Judge Livingston: [00:11:04] You know, I think that that ended up being, uh, one of the best things about this project.
It was very collaborative and I, I feel like as the ultimate owner of the building in the, in the, the project at the end of the day, I felt much more involved, much more appreciated in terms of what we needed to get. And there was a lot of back and back and forth and a lot of give and take. For example, we would hear things from consultants that said, well, you know, in our experience, working in other communities with other judges and other courts, No things, we think you’re going to use it this way, and we think you’re going to need to do this and the other.
And we would say, well, yes, but we’re actually using it. We actually know what we want to do with it. And we actually feel like we know better what we want to use it for and how we want it to look and what works for us and what works for our culture and our community and so on and so forth. So there was a lot of collaboration, but there was definitely [00:12:00] a lot of a robust conversation about what made the most is what was the most efficient, what was the most effective? What was the most cost-effective and what was best and, and that collaboration and that pushback and that ability for us to learn from others, but also to teach others about what worked for us really, I think in the end produced a fantastic project. And you’re right, Rob, instead of just being told, you know, We need a courthouse and giving developers an opportunity to go run with it and figure out what they thought we needed. We were partners all along the way and they with us. So what we ended up with was not only a collaboration that I think will demonstrate the beauty of working together with other professionals, but in the end, we know exactly what we’re getting. We know exactly what we’re paying for. We know exactly how much it’s going to cost. We know exactly what it’s gonna look like. And there are no surprises [00:13:00] in that kind of collaborative process. And that gives me great comfort, but it also makes me feel good about the input. We got the input we get. And at the end of the day, I think both sides, the owner side, the developer side, we both, at the end of the day, feel like we have engaged in a process that makes sense.
Rob Fisch: [00:13:21] Do you remember, we took some court tours during the design process together. What, what do you think the value of those were and what do you think you gained?
Judge Livingston: [00:13:28] There were two things that we did in this process. That’s one of them. And I don’t know if you’re going to ask me later a question about the other, which I will mention now is, is building mocking up a courtroom of several of them actually, uh, there were two things in this process that I thought were absolutely fantastic and I’m so glad we did it.
One was taking the tours. We learned so much from the experience of other communities that had built courthouses. Recently, we learned. To do we learn what not to do. We learn what to look out for. We [00:14:00] learned about the surprises. I’ll I’ll give you one good example. We were in one community and we were really impressed with the way in which they were using a certain space. And we said to them, wow, you were really forward-thinking about how you would use this space. And they said, oh yeah, no, we weren’t. This was an after market addition, like they thought they were going to use that space for something completely different. But when they moved into the building and they started to think about where they were at the time, the building, they occupied the building, as opposed to when they were planning to build the building, they’d learned some things about their own internal processes that suggested they ought to use that particular space on that particular floor for something completely different that they’d not planned for in advance.
And that was a lesson. Right. We have to be thinking then about flexible space. We think we’re going to use this space this way, but what if we did it? Right. So instead of making something so specific to our current needs, if we [00:15:00] could be forceful about how to build something that could be used in different ways, multipurpose kinds of ways, flexible spaces, then we give ourselves the advantage of being able to move into a space and change its purpose down the road without having to build walls for tear down walls.
And so this notion of being flexible and thoughtful about Innovations that might come, that we don’t even know exist yet was, was a helpful process. Right. So, so it was really great to go and see what others were doing. And to really ask questions about the lessons that they had learned. I think, I think those.
Those trips were super valuable. We also learned about really practical things like on one of our tours in one community, they have a docket similar to ours involving child welfare cases. And we noticed the way they had configured a space using furniture and things like that. And we thought, wow.
You know, you could actually create some things that really make [00:16:00] sense for the people who are going to use that space in ways that a traditional courtroom setup don’t accommodate. And so simple things like furniture was, you know, ideas about how to use that space. How to appoint the space and how to decorate the space also turned out to be really valuable, where to put interpreters.
You could you pull them and could you have them offsite in a remote location? And could you not do that and so forth? All, all of these were really, really. Useful and helpful ways how to secure prisoners, not only just with secure transport, but in the courtroom, uh, you know, should you have a bar under the witness box to cuff someone so that the handcuffs are visible?
Yes, no good idea. Bad idea. You know, we just learned so many things from these tours to other communities that really helped us be thoughtful about what was best for us. What would make sense for us? What would be the most efficient for us and what would ultimately give. A building that we could really grow into and use in a [00:17:00] very effective and efficient way.
And so those tours were invaluable.
Rob Fisch: [00:17:04] So you touched on some of the, uh, the flexibility of the building. What about some of the other amenities? What do you expect you and I had talked previously about some of the unique aspects of this project and certainly features that you don’t have in your outdated facilities.
So what are you looking forward to in terms of new features?
Judge Livingston: [00:17:23] Everything if I can summarize our building was built in the 1930s. And so you can just imagine and it, you know, it was built for a population of a mere fraction of what the current population is in our community. So, it is inadequate for our needs on many levels and in so many ways.
So really when I say everything, I’m not being flipped, I’m, I’m being serious. We don’t have amenities in our current facility to speak of, and we will have many amenities that will take us into the future. And I’m very excited about that. Some things that we do have, we have a cafeteria we’re going to have a cafeteria in the new building.
Right? [00:18:00] Simple. But we’re doing things in the new building that we really weren’t thinking about in the 1930. So we’re going to have I believe a lead certification that will make this community proud. It’s going to be a sustainable building. We’re going to be thoughtful about how we use natural resources and recycling and water and utilities.
And, and we’re going to try to be good stewards of our environment and good stewards of our community by making sure that we are. Using a building in a sustainable way, but we’re also going to be, we have thought all along that we ought to make the courthouse. I think Judge Deitz maybe had come up with the term.
We want to be alive after five. In other words, we want that building to be usable space. For community activities, even after the courts are finished with their business for the day. So having a fairly large multi multipurpose room on the first floor of our building that can be easily secured. The upper floors can be safe and secure in the evenings when court is not in session, but on the [00:19:00] first floor on the lower floors, we might invite the public in for, uh, community discussions on hot topics of the day or current events, or even.
Music performances or theatrical performances or any number of things in which the, the building might come alive after five o’clock. And so that has been a motivating factor. We’ve been very excited about that possibility of using this space in any, in any number of ways, differently than we might, we’re building a self-help center because the number of people representing themselves in our community has grown explanations exponentially.
So we needed to have. A very large and spacious area for folks that want to do research and get information about how to handle their own litigation. We’re going to have a children’s waiting room in the new building that we do not currently have. Well, one of the things that has distressed me over the years is that when I’m walking through our current building, I’m stepping over children on the stairwell.
They [00:20:00] have no place to go. And sadly, some of our litigants have to bring their kids to court. Some are, are necessary parties to be in court because of the kind of case, but others just have to come with their parents because their parents don’t have other alternatives for daycare. Patrons who come to just file documents or pick up a document, let alone people who are there for court hearings.
Those folks don’t even have a place that they could just leave their kids for a short period of time to go do business in the courthouse and then come back and pick them up. We don’t have that ability to accommodate that very important need in our, in our current building. And we will in the new building, we’re thinking ahead for members of the public as well.
Stakeholders, including a young lawyer mothers. Right? So we’ll have mothering rooms that we don’t currently add in our, in our current building health and safety and wellness. We’ll have, you know, the ability to have places where staff can go and [00:21:00] unwind. We work in a very stressful. And so we need an opportunity for the public to be able to take a deep breath in a, in a nice space.
And so we’ve tried to accommodate keeping a calm atmosphere by having wider hallways and lots of natural light coming in through windows so that we can keep calm. Serene surroundings in order to keep the peace and otherwise stressful environment. We we’ve tried to be thoughtful in many, many ways.
And these what you call amenities, I’ve started to think of really as necessities in order to really provide the kind of space that is dignified for court proceedings, but also accommodating to the public.
Rob Fisch: [00:21:41] Well, one of the unusual features as architects and planners. Happy to be able to provide are actually outdoor balconies on the court floors. Now they’re secure, but they’re outdoors. So somebody can step not just in the large hallway, but they can step outside. And that’s partly a cultural thing for [00:22:00] Austin that the outdoors is celebrated more than many other locations, but hopefully that will be an idea that will be fruitful. And then perhaps, maybe other jurisdictions.
Judge Livingston: [00:22:08] Will you forgot to mention that?
Okay. Right. I mean, those outdoor balconies are part of this atmosphere that we’re trying to create this calm space, this, this nice space. This, I need to take a breath. I need to have a break space, but also it looks fantastic. Right. Our building has a very stately look to. But it also looks like it fits in the space that we’ve put it in, right?
It, matches the community’s personality. And I think our, our city and our county, and, and even in our state, we’re providing a space that looks like it ought to be there and has at the same time, this incredible functionality. So it looks cool. It is cool. It feels cool. And people are going to be comfortable while they’re there. [00:23:00]
Eli Gage: [00:23:00] I think it’s interesting to hear you say, how hard it was to get to a P3. I think, we go all over the world and all over the country doing this type of work, and I think your counterparts in other states, Travis county is one of the most progressive places in the country.
And, oh, we’ll look at them. They did a P three and it looked seamless. You guys made it look easy. And, and this, this, this, this adaptable space concept keeps coming up in this podcast. It’s interesting. People are learning to build things for the future. I’m gonna jump over real quick. Cause I’m curious, we did a, a podcast.
It was over a year ago with one of your counterparts in a different state. And it was right at the beginning of COVID. So I’m really curious in Travis county right now, not to get away from the building project, but I want to. Kind of the state of, of criminal justice having gotten through maybe the worst of COVID.
And how, how [00:24:00] operations for you have, have changed? You know, I did a little search here. Uh, Travis county has grown by 35% over the last 10 years, and it’s obviously one of the fastest growing. Metro areas in the country. So that means, and I know, as I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of people from California moving to Texas.
What impact has that had on, on your court system? How have, how are you handling currently the court situation and where are we kind of state of the industry in Texas now?
Judge Livingston: [00:24:31] Well, there’s a lot to unpack in your question there, Eli, but, but let me start by saying that one of the things that we have learned, and I think the data demonstrates is that as the population increases, so does the business at the courthouse, it’s in some areas it’s really a one-to-one correlation, right?
But as the population grows, the need for more courts grows, and that means that we need to be able to accommodate that in our building. Right. COVID has had an interesting impact because one [00:25:00] of the things that we’ve learned to that we don’t actually all have to be in the building all day, every day at the same time breathing the same air, right.
We have great ventilation in the new building by the way. But what we’ve learned is we don’t all have to be there at the same time. There are certain types of proceedings that can continue to happen in a virtual environment. And there’s no reason why we. Prevent that from moving forward, right.
I’ve been telling people all along. There’s no reason in the world. Why a summary judgment hearing when there’s just legal argument, no evidence, no witnesses. There’s no reason why we couldn’t continue to do that. Kind of a hearing online using zoom or some other technical process we just don’t have to be in person for that.
So that’s one of the things we’ve learned from COVID actually, we even learned that before COVID because we were using Skype, right. Other technologies in the past when we needed to, in order to accommodate an out-of-state or an out of the country witnesses. So we’ve just now decided that it’s okay to do that on a [00:26:00] regular basis.
That’s one of the lessons that I guess we’ve learned since COVID, but, but as to your question about the population, there’s no doubt that as the population grows and it’s growing at amazing rates, we will have to be able to accommodate. In our courts on the civil side, in the family courts, as well as in the juvenile courts, as well as in the probate courts, as well as in the criminal courts, it’s just a reality that we have to face. And so our ability to build a building that is flexible, that has usable space, that has space that can be used today for this purpose. And tomorrow for another purpose is really, really important. And we try to be thoughtful about that even pre COVID when we were planning this building, uh, knowing what we knew then now that we know what we know now, it’s even more important for us to be thinking ahead about how we can use that space.
In ways that will accommodate the growing population in our community. And we’re, we’re trying our best uh, to do that [00:27:00] with regards to other impacts of COVID. I would say that aside from the lessons we’ve learned about our business model, what can we do in person? What do we have to do in person? What can we do online? What do we, what should we be doing online? We are certainly exploring all of those things. Uh, but we also are. Simultaneously trying to figure out how to catch up from the delays that we’ve experienced during COVID that’s more true in the criminal courts than in the civil courts. I will tell you that in a community like Austin, Travis county, we were pretty wired before March of 2020 in our wiredness we were able to really pivot fairly easily and quickly to a remote environment. So when we shut down mid March of 2020, uh, within a week’s time, we were up and running.
In fact, in a few days, time, we were up and running with the available technology that we had. And so on a civil and family side and on the [00:28:00] criminal side and in the probate courts and in the juvenile court, we were really not skipping a beat in terms of being able to conduct some number of proceedings now in the criminal courts, of course their biggest problem had to do with jury trials because it was not possible to put on a jury trial. That was true on the civil side as well at the beginning, but six months into it, we were able to start. Remote jury trials on the civil side, we had permission to do so from the Supreme court’s emergency orders that were in place and remain in place. And so we’ve now had over 10 virtual jury trials in Travis county since last year.
And I don’t know that there’s a community, that’s had more virtual jury trials that are, but if they have great, because it has proven to be a very efficient way to continue to get the court’s business accomplished. That remains a challenge for the criminal courts because they [00:29:00] have unique considerations and constitutional issues. But on the civil and family side, we’ve really been able to just keep going, even with all of the the nuances and the, the problems that you might associate with having a jury trial that isn’t in person, but we’ve able to, we’ve been able to work that out and, and I’m just so proud of our team. And that too has been a very collaborative effort, just so proud of the way in which we’ve come together to figure out the technology be creative and innovative in our solutions. And keep the people’s business moving just couldn’t be more proud.
Rob Fisch: [00:29:36] Well, actually, Travis, you were ahead in a number of areas before COVID hit, as you mentioned, one of them is you’re one of the few communities that has an online jury call system. So I imagine you’ve had it for over 10 years now.
Judge Livingston: [00:29:49] Next year they’re celebrating their 20th anniversary.
Rob Fisch: [00:29:52] Okay, way more than 10 years. It’s been 12 years since I’ve been working with you and it was already up and running and successful. I wonder why other [00:30:00] communities aren’t emulating it, but it’s certainly give you a head start.
Judge Livingston: [00:30:04] Yeah, that’s a good question. So we started our eye program in 2002. So next year will be 20 years. The public loves it. The judges love it. I mean, I remember because I’ve been around long enough that we used to have to go to some big auditorium offsite because we didn’t have a seat. On our campus, large enough to accommodate big community, jury and paneling.
And, and we would go out there and we would see hundreds of people at a time and they would all sit around and wait and wait, and wait, while we talk to somebody about, you know, they were going on vacation or they had a doctor’s appointment or whatever it was right now, all that happens. And you can reschedule.
You can tell us what your vacation looks like. You can say, I’m a teacher and I’m really rather doing this summer when I’m off from school, you know, you can handle all that kind stuff. Online. We’ve been doing that since 2002 and it has been just a wonderful, wonderful innovation in this community. [00:31:00] So they’re, I think they’re planning in the clerk’s office, a big celebration of the project.
I don’t know why more communities are embracing that. I do know that the clerk is, is making the rounds when invited to communities that are interested in looking at it because. Particularly since COVID other communities have thought maybe that is a, an idea we should pursue. So perhaps you’ll see it implemented in other communities, but we have loved it in the public list to a person,the public loves it.
Rob Fisch: [00:31:30] Right. I’ve been promoting it to a lot of clients over the years, ever since I saw how well it worked in Travis, and don’t get a lot of takers, but maybe the pandemic has sort of changed people’s priorities. It’s kind of given a lot of courts, the nudge to embrace technology that was already there, but they just, maybe through tradition, habit, convenience were slow to make those changes.
And I think the pandemic kind of pushed folks to do it.
Eli Gage: [00:31:57] Judge, what would you tell other counties [00:32:00] that maybe you’re listening to this podcast that are stuck in 2009 right now, and want to get a project going?
Judge Livingston: [00:32:08] Well, a couple of things, I would say, I’d say one, do some research and try to build some consensus around what it is you want to do. Where do you want to be?
What would you like to see? Like, if you know what your goal is, then you can try to figure out how to reach that goal. If you’re not clear about where you’re trying to go I think your road is going to be more difficult. So to the extent that you can do some needs assessments or some surveys, or just some brainstorming sessions in which the stakeholders involved are asked, where is it that we’re trying to go, then, then you can begin to figure out how to get there.
And let me just stop and say, when I say stakeholders, I mean, all of the folks that you would normally think of and the ones you don’t normally think of librarians are stakeholders, the public. Right? They’re also stakeholders, people who come into your building who get lost because there are no signs that tell them where to go. [00:33:00] Wayfinding stakeholders are. Right. The random folks who get lost coming into your building, but we’re really, they’re looking for the building over there, whatever that is . There’s all kinds of stakeholders and you should interview them all. And you should talk to the sheriffs. You should talk to the staff who work in the buildings. You should talk to the lawyer community, the, you name it, their stakeholders if they have anything at all to do with your space. The people who occupied the building across the street, right. They probably have some interest in what you’re going to build and what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to impact them. And will your people mistake your parking lot for their parking lot and all of that. Right. So stakeholders. Big tent, right? I would say for stakeholders, but once you identify the stakeholders and you’ve done this needs assessment, and you’ve figured out what it is, you’re you, you want your future to look like, then I would say the next step is to do some homework and some research do what we did, which is to go to other communities and figure out what they’re doing and [00:34:00] learn about how they did it, how they got there, what worked, what didn’t work, what lessons they learned. If they had to do it all over again, what would they do differently? I think those are all really important questions to ask those who have been down that road before you’re about to take that step. Go visit those communities, take a look, take the time. It’s an investment, but it’s a small investment of, of time and resources to go visit another community but it is so war well worth the expense because you’re going to learn a whole lot about how to reach the goal that you have. So I would say do that kind of foam work.
The consultants are invaluable. They have experienced because you know, they’re also working in Florida and in California and in Kansas and Missouri and in other places. And so they can give you the benefit of what they have learned by working in those other communities. And you can benefit from that as well. Then you have to go back to your stakeholders and talk again. So this is what we learned when you think about that. Well, this is what we figured out. What do you think about that? Well, what if we tried this? Well, I know that it’s [00:35:00] kind of, you know, conservative around here. We don’t really know this P3. It sounds kind of new and different, but. Well, maybe it’s not so new and different because they’re doing it over here and you’re doing it over there and they’re doing it in Southern place. And maybe it’s not so new and maybe it’s not so scary and let’s talk it through and let’s figure out, you know, maybe if this is right for us. So I would say that that other communities that are thinking about , public private partnerships, thinking about building a new building in, a traditional way, trying to accommodate the future, trying to accommodate what our new normal is going to look like post pandemic. I think getting as much information from as many people as possible, and then trying to figure out what to do with all that information and how to process it and how you can use it to help you move in the direction you want to go in is pretty, pretty important.
Don’t be afraid. Be creative. Be solution-oriented, but, but don’t be afraid to take a chance.
Rob Fisch: [00:35:54] You would actually earlier brought up the courtroom mock-ups and, that it sounds like you have [00:36:00] some insight into that. And I guess connecting that, what do you see really from both quarters, from our conversations, from your research and from the plan to embrace flexibility? What do you see as the courtrooms of the future? What do they look like? What are we doing in your building? And then how might they change over.
Judge Livingston: [00:36:22] Well, a great question. A lot to unpack in that one as well. And I’ll start by talking about the court mock-ups that was one of the smartest things we ever did. And we learned that lesson from one of our courthouse tours. We went on a tour and, you know, we were asking what they did, that they were really glad they did. That sort of thing. And one of the answers we got back was have them build a mock-up and that turned out to be a really smart idea when they built it up on a plywood and paper. We were able to literally sit at a desk and say, you know what? This is too high. You know [00:37:00] what? This is too low. You know what the space between here and there is not wide enough. The space over here is too wide. We don’t need that much space. I don’t think a wheelchair will get in and out of this jury box. I don’t think a wheelchair will fit in the witness box. If you put it this way, perhaps you could swing the door the other way. Let’s make this taller. Let’s make this shorter. Let’s move this over six inches. Let’s do this. Let’s do that. I can’t see if I’m sitting in that jury room. On the second row. I can’t see the witness box.
All the sight lines and just literally sitting in a space that’s you’re going to be in was the most valuable thing I think we’ve got out of that exercise. And it was worth every penny of the plywood that we spent building it out. What’s the distance between the jury box and the big screen that they’re going to be showing videos on. Can you see it? Do we need to stagger where we place these permanent chairs? We’re going to bolt into the floor. Should we not bolt chairs in the floor? Maybe we should have movable chairs. Do we [00:38:00] need our well to be larger to accommodate five different lawyers representing five different parties? Because in, in a big construction law case, everybody’s suing everybody and pointing the finger at all of the subcontractors. And there’s 10 of them. Where going to put all those people. And where are we going to put those lawyers? And what about the plaintiff? We’ve got to have space for the plantiff.
How many council tables do we need? How many chairs do we need? Each of the chairs have arms, should the chairs not have arms? And you know, all of these kinds of things are the nitty gritty of what makes the building comfortable and functional. And unless you’re thoughtful about all of those little decisions, you’re going to end up not having accommodated the needs of the, of the end users of your space. And you want to be able to do that. So mocking it up was clearly the right decision. And I’m so glad that we did that. We did a second mock up where we actually had the actual material. So we got rid of the plywood and we actually put, you know, the, the granite or [00:39:00] quarts or whatever it is that’s going in there and the millwork and the whole build-out so that we can not only see how it looks, but where everything was going to be situated in relationship in the space to other things and other people. And that, again, super smart idea. And I’m so glad that we did that in order, in terms of what we think we’re going to need. Again, I go back to flexibility. If you think you’re going to grow, and I’m guessing that you like Travis county will grow, you’ve got to be thinking about building spaces. Today that will accommodate the needs of tomorrow.
So for example, we bought a lot, it’s a big city lot. We don’t need the whole block today, but we know that in 50, 50 years or so we will. So we built the infrastructure in the basement of our building today that will accommodate another build. 50 years from now, so that they don’t have to dig a [00:40:00] hole and put supports in for the new building. They are already there. And they can just build on top of that very smart decision I think in an investment of time and energy and money today, that will be a savings tomorrow. We are building out spaces on all of our floors, so that if we have to move the clerk’s office off of the fourth floor, for example, Because we need three more courtrooms on that floor.
We have configured that space so that they will accommodate three new courtrooms that look exactly like the three courtrooms on the fifth floor. Even if we have to move folks out to hotel them in an alternate space. Right. So we have tried to be thoughtful in our planning so that if we had to use that space for something else, it’s already the right size to accommodate whatever that future needs might be. And so I think that kind of thoughtful thinking ahead and planning ahead and putting some infrastructure in place now that [00:41:00] will support something else in the future is, is the best way that you can plan for the inevitable, which is growth.
Eli Gage: [00:41:06] Judge Livingston, you announced your retirement at, towards the end of 2022. Are you going to get into the courts design and construction business?
Judge Livingston: [00:41:18] Wow. I had not thought of that as a new career. My, my plan at the moment is to spend times with my parents and my grandkids. I’m in that sandwich generation where I have, Elderly parents and also young grandchildren.
And so, I’m right now on the horizon for me, is spending as much time with all of the family as I possibly can. I do intend to come back to Travis county and maybe some surrounding counties to assist with heavy dockets and to sub in for judges who might need to be off for medical procedures or vacation or continuing education programs.
So while I won’t be there everyday, I do intend to come back and work. At least [00:42:00] part-time to help out with the dockets that I are shirted row here in Travis county. And I’m sure that’s true for the surrounding counties as well. So I will make myself available to continue to work as a jurist in these communities as needed.
But I’m also looking forward to spending more time with family.
Eli Gage: [00:42:18] That’s great. What about between now and the end of 2022?
Judge Livingston: [00:42:22] Between now and the end of 22, I’m going to pull out my hard hat is often as a levy, so I can go over to the building site and check in on the progress it’s been. It’s been really a lot of fun to choose the furniture and the materials into. Look at, you know, different color schemes colors that we think will make people happy, not sad that will create bright spaces instead of gloomy boring spaces. Right? We are, we’re trying our best to make the building look dignified for the dignified work that has to happen there, but also be a welcoming space, [00:43:00] lots of light, lots of color, lots of arts. Art and public places, art within the building. Lots of things that we think will make it more cheerful and less draught, frankly. And so a lot of what I’m going to be doing between now and the time I retire is making sure that that building opens on time, that we don’t spend a penny more than we’ve agreed to.
And that we open that building to great fanfare and, uh, look forward to getting the people’s business accomplished in that new building.
Eli Gage: [00:43:30] What is that target date?
Judge Livingston: [00:43:33] Well fall of 2022. Or early 2023, we’re sort of hedging our bets there just because weather does what weather does and delays are what they are. But right now we are on budget and we are on time. And so on. Holding out hope for the fall of 2022. I’ve told them that they should put my name in pencil, outside the door. That will be the courtroom for the 261st district [00:44:00] court. But but I’m hoping that I’ll at least get to sit in that chair for a few months before I leave.
Eli Gage: [00:44:06] I’m sure you’re aware of the escalation that’s happened in the last year in the construction. It’s a, it’s been a hard time. You were probably locked and loaded before that happened, but it’s been a hard time to, to pin people down on pricing, obviously. So
Judge Livingston: [00:44:21] yeah, it’s been a real challenge. Although, as you say, we did so much of our work pre pandemic that, uh, in some ways I think we’re in a better position than somebody who’s just now about to break ground.
So I feel like we’re. Almost sort of, there we are very close, I think within days of being weathertight in the building. And so once we reached that milestone, we’ll begin to start the finishes inside the building. And then I think people are really going to be impressed it and how it looks and the choices that we’ve made that aren’t fancy by any means.
But I think are going to be nice and [00:45:00] clean and, and pretty, and. Functional, mostly functional. And so I think we’re in some ways lucky that we started when we started and we didn’t delay any further.
Eli Gage: [00:45:12] Well, Judge Livingston, it’s been a real treat to meet you. And I look forward to meeting you in person one day. Thank you for making time with us it’s a treat and a lot of great information.
Judge Livingston: [00:45:23] Fantastic, it’s been a pleasure. Nice to meet you.
Eli Gage: [00:45:26] And Rob fish, thank you for your time. Really great input and helping you. Host is always, uh, is an advantage to me. So thank you.
Rob Fisch: [00:45:35] Okay. Thanks.
Judge Livingston: [00:45:37] Look forward to meeting you in person Eli, and seeing you again in person Rob, and say hi to all of my buddies CGL.
Rob Fisch: [00:45:43] We will. Thank you. All right, thanks.
Eli Gage: [00:45:47] Wow. What a great advocate for a great project, Judge Livingston. Well, thanks everyone for joining and listening to our podcast today, you can find this and other episodes on the standard podcast [00:46:00] platforms like apple podcast, Google podcast, Stitcher, and Spotify. Or visit us at cglcompanies.com/podcast. If you have suggestions or topics, please let me know. We’d love to hear from you about future guests on the 360 Justice podcast. You can always email me at podcast@cglcompanies.Com.
Thanks again for joining.